Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Boston Herald Pitches a Fit

The Boston Herald reports that "Outrage Builds [at the Boston Herald] over Obama Snub of . . ."

— wait for it —

". . . the Herald." Howie Carr likens the snub, described elsewhere by the Herald as a "freezing out" of "full access" to cover the President's visit to Boston, to inclusion on President Nixon's "Enemies List."

And one sees straightaway why the Obama Administration is disinclined to extend to the Herald the full array of access privileges available to serious journalists.
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Let's be clear: this isn't a First Amendment issue. Denying "full access" to the President isn't censorship, even if, as it appears, the decision was made at least in part because Obama's aides think the Herald has not treated him "fairly." There is a press pool. It's crowded, there is limited space, and it sits amply within the Administration's discretion to decide how to allocate that space.

Is a review of a paper's previous coverage for "fairness" an appropriate consideration in allocating that space? To be sure, the Administration's decision sounds punitive. White House spokesman Matt Lehrich explained his thinking as follows:

I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters. . . . I think (the Romney op-ed) raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the president’s visits.
Now I don't think anyone can deny that Lehrich made a poor tactical decision writing all this down in an email message for the Herald to reprint. And I'll admit, too, that claims of bias are tiresome and we all should be "troubled" whenever a government figure takes action against a reporter based on what he writes. But let's pause to consider what that action was: "freezing out" of "full access" to the President's visit to the Hub. Not exactly jack-booted thugs kicking down a door and shooting up the Herald's printing press. And with a reporter from Human Events currently holding a chair in the White House briefing room, I'm pretty comfortable that the White House isn't excluding contrary viewpoints.

But that said, a decision to deny the Herald "full access" is entirely consistent with an important theme that the President himself continues to articulate: in recent years our politics have deteriorated to the point where they severely inhibit our ability even to identify seriously problems, much less work together to solve them. And the President is not wrong to assign to the media a share of the responsibility for the deterioration of our politics.

One look at Carr's gagged-up slurry of petulant populism (yeah, Howie: it doesn't take a genius to write this way) — which of course wouldn't have been complete without references to the President as "Hussein" and descriptions of Globe reporters as "spayed" and "neutered" — makes it quite clear that the Administration wasn't wrong to conclude that maybe someone other than the Herald deserved one of the coveted "full access" slots.

Carr writes:

The Herald is for people who didn’t move here from New York to look down their noses at everyone who has calluses on their hands, who aren’t consumed by guilt about the trust funds that support them in their leisure.
Yes, fine, Howie. But I think the President's point is that the folks with calluses on their hands are owed something better than what you and your colleagues give them every day. You can have your tantrums, Boston Herald, and you can forgo actual news to devote no fewer than 5 stories and columns in today's paper to your trumped-up incident of press martyrdom and "we speak truth to power" meme. Nobody's going to shut down your press. But we don't have to take you so seriously as to put you on the White House bus. And we don't, either, need to accept your strained Nixon analogies, which would make you who? Woodward and Bernstein?

Please.