White House shows little love for press corps, study shows

The gap between the president and press is the largest it's been in 50 years, according to the report.

While the White House has made a name for itself with innovative social media efforts, a study from the Columbia Journalism Review revealed a "gulf" between POTUS and traditional press.

According to the report, which studied all official exchanges between Obama and the press corps in 2014, as well as press briefings and interviews with current and former correspondents and White House press secretaries, the White House is "determined to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public."

The report added that "the relationship between the president and the press is more distant than it has been in a half century."

"It’s too easy to see it as ‘the White House hates the press,’" said Susan Milligan, who authored the report. "People outside tend to turn it into a ‘Real Housewives’ episode, and it’s not."

Also, the findings showed that past democratic presidents had closer relationships with the media, and Obama’s solo press conferences only allowed five reporters per session in 2014. This has led to a juxtaposition where White House reporters, who say "they are working in what is arguably the freest press in the world" struggle to "explain why the president does what he does," per the report.

Milligan, a writer and contributing editor at US News & World Report, told PRWeek that Obama didn’t notch years of experience in Washington before being elected president in 2008, which is one of the reasons why he doesn’t have a strong rapport with the press.

"I do genuinely believe he doesn’t like the Washington game – and I don’t use [game] pejoratively – some things are what you have to do," she added.

The president is more policy-minded and not as much of a "salesman" like some of his predecessors, said Milligan.

One New York Times reporter quoted in the study said he can’t answer certain questions about Obama because he simply doesn’t know.

Social media may shoulder some of the blame for the White House press corps’ lack of inside information. The report notes the administration’s ability to bypass the press corps if it wants because of something like West Wing Week, a show that airs on whitehouse.gov.

Similarly, other announcements have been made on the White House’s Facebook page, and just last month, the president used a selfie stick for the sake of healthcare.gov.

The report quotes White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who backed the social strategy, saying it "got more attention and better play among the people who care about it the most."

Milligan added, "The increasing use of different kinds of media has complicated it for both [the press corps and the White House]."

Obama’s administration has long targeted specific demographics, perhaps most notably in the president’s appearance on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns before the close of the first healthcare.gov open enrollment period. The effort led to an increase in website hits, and since then, the White House has even gotten comfortable enough online to go trolling before the State of the Union address.

The leader of the free world might feel at ease spoofing himself, but he plays it safe when it comes to facing traditional media, tending to not veer far from a list of predetermined reporters who will ask questions during press conferences, according to the report. This leaves the press corps to suffer.                                                               

According to the report, Earnest has also nixed off-camera sessions in his office called gaggles because "reporters would just stand around tweeting" whatever he said.

This story was updated on March 4 to include comments from Milligan.

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