About the Coziness of the White House Press Corps

By James Fallows

I don't know about this first hand -- I've never tried to cover the Obama White House, I don't know many of the people who are on the WH beat these days. But based on what I have known over the years, Steve Clemons' critique this morning rings true to me.

Steve's argument is that the eternal White House game -- trading access-to-inside-sources for generally positive coverage -- has been intensified by the number of reporters planning to do dishy books about the Obama administration. Those books become more or less valuable based on how many inside details and anecdotes they contain. The inside anecdotes become more or less available based on whether the reporters are seen as friendly or hostile. Again, this is a very long-standing situation and source of distortion. And considering the number of groups with a built-in berserk hostility to Obama, maybe it is karmic balance.

But his item is worth reading as a reality check, and also because it includes a link to a very good assessment of the Obama administration's foreign policy, by Daniel Dombey and Edward Luce of the Financial Times. Saying so represents a karmic balance of its own, my having tusseled with Luce before about his approach toward Obama. His and Dombey's argument now is that Obama's confidence in his own judgment (which I generally admire - both the judgment and the confidence) has become the only organizing principle of the Administration.

Mr Obama has built a machine in which all roads lead to and from him. On the minus side, that means a lot of lower-level meetings without decisions. It also means neglecting issues that cannot be squeezed into his diary, such as trade policy, which continues to drift; or relations with India, which are unnecessarily tense.

And it means that the fingerprints of Mr Obama's political inner circle are detected by the rumour mill even when they are absent, such as on the president's decision to begin the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 - a recommendation that came from Robert Gates, secretary of defence.

On the plus side, Mr Obama has a sharp learning curve, which means his administration continues to evolve. On the plus side also, if it has to be White House-centric, it is perhaps better with him as the Sun King than, say, Nixon or George W. Bush.

I am saying this from a distance, but this assessment sounds likely-to-prove-true to me, compared with a lot of other minute-by-minute inside details. Worth reading -- both the Clemons item and the FT article.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/04/about-the-coziness-of-the-white-house-press-corps/38414/