Politico: 'How the Press Sucks up to White House'

March 4th, 2009 3:46 AM

Want to know the sordid details of how the press sucks up to staffers at the White House? According to Politico's Michael Calderone it is via a "beat sweetener" article, a concept well known in Old Media circles. A "beat sweetener" is an article meant to flatter a White House staffer so that said reporter might find easier access to the inside stuff later on.

Calderone's piece is an interesting glimpse into the world of Washington political reporters and it isn't one that builds much confidence among us, the readers. Perhaps, like a magician revealing his tricks, Calderone might find a few of his colleagues being a bit miffed at the spotlight he shines on this less than edifying practice.

After detailing some of the glowing terms that reporters have ladled out to Obama staffers, Calderone introduces us to the practice:

Welcome to the “beat sweetener.”

In the early days of any administration, reporters reach out to the men and women who might become their sources over the next four years -- then slather them with glowing profiles suitable for framing in their mothers’ bedrooms.

Even garden-variety government officials become political superheroes, each one harder-working and more down-to-earth than the last — and all of them enjoying the ear of the president.

Calderone traces the term at least back until the 1980s but also speculates that it is a practice as old as Washington itself.

But do these sweet profiles of White House staffer work? Calderone seemed to come down on both sides of the issue quoting some reporters defending the practice as necessary to keep the flow of inside White House information open and one associate professor of George Washington University that stood in the negative against the practice.

One cannot help but wonder, though, if we might rather tend to see the "beat sweetener" practice turn a reporter into a sufferer of CNN-Baghdad-Bureau syndrome. That would be the situation where CNN never reported on Saddam Hussein's atrocities because the cable channel didn't want the dictator to throw them out of the country thereby closing its Iraq news bureau. In that case CNN found no problem in turning a blind eye to Saddam's atrocities to keep the flow in information going. In like manner, it easily causes worry that reporters that employ "beat sweetener" stories to keep the flow of information coming from White House staffers might turn a blind eye to stories that should be reported but aren't because the reporter is more interested in safekeeping access than in reporting the truth.

(And, for the unhinged left that does its level best to eke meaning where none exists, I am not equating Obama's White House to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I am discussing the media's actions here, not either of the Hussein's.)

Adding to the raising of eyebrows that this practice might cause is the realization of how these same reporters are in Obama's corner in the first place. It all amounts to quite a bit of reason to be suspicious of the end product coming from the White House press corps these days.

Michael Calderone has an interesting piece, whatever the case. A must read for those interested in the inner working of the Washington press corps.

(Photo credit: Politico)