You know things are getting bad for the President when he has to surprise journalists to get an off-the-record meeting:
White House officials regularly meet with reporters for so-called “background briefing sessions,” where the attendees cannot be mentioned by name nor quoted directly, but Monday’s meeting was different. Initially billed as a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the president made a surprise appearance — a very unusual move — and the White House placed the proceedings off the record beforehand. The meeting came amid a series of scandals crashing over the White House that has placed the administration on defense in a way it hasn’t been until now.
Relations between the press and the White House have been especially fraught since last month’s revelation that the Justice Department had covertly collected phone records from Associated Press reporters in pursuit of locating the source of a national security leak. When the Justice Department sought to hold an off-the-record meeting with journalists to discuss its investigation, news outlets pushed back, with The New York Times publicly refusing to attend.
The President must be really desperate to get the normally lapdog media on back on his side. Why else would he lie to what are normally media allies to get them in the room in the first place, and then spend political capital and time chatting with them?
One reporter notes he might not have attended, had he known the President would be there:
New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker said reporters had not been told that Obama would be in the session, and that if he had known, he and his editors would have reconsidered whether to attend.
“If we had, I think we would have had a conversation here in our office first about whether to attend or not. We tend to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis,” Baker told BuzzFeed. “Our concern about off-the-record sessions with the president is that they not become substitutes for opportunities to ask questions and get answers on the record, which after all is our job.”
Kudos to BuzzFeed for picking up on this. Let’s keep the pressure up on the President regarding his many scandals, and make sure the media holds his Administration’s feet to the fire. The American people deserve no less.