Reporters Visiting WH for Off-the-Record Lunch Work For Pubs That Demanded Transparency During Bush 43

August 13th, 2010 9:59 PM
Barack_Obama_restaurantFile the news in this report filed late yesterday afternoon by Michael Calderone and John Cook at Yahoo's Upshot Blog under "D" for Double Standards:

White House reporters mum on Obama lunch, even as papers back transparency

White House reporters are keeping quiet about an off-the-record lunch today with President Obama — even those at news organizations who've advocated in the past for the White House to release the names of visitors.

But the identities of the lunch's attendees won't remain secret forever: Their names will eventually appear on the White House's periodically updated public database of visitor logs.

... The Obama White House began posting the logs in order to settle a lawsuit, begun under the Bush administration, from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which sought the Secret Service's White House visitor logs under the Freedom of Information Act.

... And guess who filed briefs supporting that argument? Virtually every newspaper that covers the White House.

The Washington Post filed an amicus brief in in February 2008 arguing that the names of White House visitors should be released, and it was joined by the Associated Press, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones, USA Today, the Hearst Corporation, the New York Daily News, the Newspaper Guild, the Society of Professional Journalists, and a host of other news outlets.

It's unclear, of course, whether reporters for any of those newspapers attended the lunch — because none of them will say.

Calderone found out anyway, and in a post early this afternoon, told us who was there:
Ben Feller (Associated Press), Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler (Wall Street Journal), Michael Shear and Scott Wilson (Washington Post), Caren Bohan (Reuters), David Jackson (USA Today), Carol Lee (Politico), Peter Nicholas (Tribune Co.), Margaret Talev (McClatchy) and Julianna Goldman (Bloomberg). Several reporters on this list gave "no comments" to The Upshot on Thursday. The New York Times was invited but did not attend. White House reporter Peter Baker told The Upshot that the paper "politely declined because we'd like very much to talk on the record."

Readers here likely have memories of certain of the above reporters going out of their way to protect Barack Obama or to bash Bush 43. The appearance of Weisman's name reminded me of an absolutely pathetic massage job he did when he was at the Washington Post.

In August 2005, as seen here, Weisman turned what had been an upbeat item about July's unemployment report by another Post reporter ("Job Growth Strongest in 3 Months") into a co-written hit piece on Bush ("Economic News Isn’t Helping Bush; Job Growth Up Sharply in July, but Polls Show Dissatisfaction"). Here were most of the report's three opening paragraphs:

U.S. job growth jumped last month and the unemployment rate held steady ... the government reported yesterday, the latest economic data to show the economy picking up steam.

Yet President Bush’s economic approval ratings remain low, weighed down by anger over Iraq and concerns about lackluster wage increases and stubbornly high gasoline prices.

“I feel the economy is just not as good as it should be,” said Adam Judis, 40, a Pasadena, Calif., computer consultant and political independent. “We’re spending too many lives, resources and money on Iraq. There has to be a point where we say we can’t help everybody. We need to help ourselves.”

My reax at the time:

The Post feels it’s their duty to massage the news for their print subscribers. They just couldn’t let the story go to print without throwing cold water on it, so they found one guy to change the subject to Iraq, and then presented poll results to “prove” that Bush really isn’t handling the economy well (even though the objective evidence says his administration is). This is a clearly conscious, obvious, and disgraceful effort to turn good news into bad news.

You may be wondering what the economic news was that left Weisman unimpressed because of Iraq, gas prices, and supposedly flat wages: In July 2005, the economy added 207,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate was 5%. Yeah, that bad (/sarc).

Watch what Weisman writes at the WSJ warily. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to keep an special eye on each of the lunch's attendees for the next few months.

One other thought: Things are pretty bad in journalism when the security-leak sieve known as the New York Times leads the way in ethics by choosing not to participate in the off-the-record luncheon.

Cross-posted at