The PJ Tatler

White House Jay Carney's "credibility gap" over Obama Mideast speech

Yesterday’s Presidential Mideast speech may have caused collateral damage to White House press secretary Jay Carney. White House reporters today feel burned by Carney’s earlier absolute denial that the president would call for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders.

Two days before the speech Carney rejected an Israeli press report alleging the president would call for an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. He flatly told White House reporters the news account, reported by Pajamas Media was “completely false.” But by the end of the yesterday’s speech, it was clear that what was deceptive was Carney’s denial.

As today’s Politico noted, the new Obama policy “surprised reporters.” The incident raises questions about Carney’s credibility and his “insider” status at White House.  Was Carney lying or, more benevolently, was he “out of the loop?” After press secretary Robert Gibbs left, Carney was not offered the same access to meetings. Instead he has to report to Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

Last January the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove suggested that second class status could give Carney problems saying “he’s not an Obama insider—hardly an advantage when toiling for an insular politician who is naturally wary of newcomers and relies on a tight circle of advisers and intimates. Some White House veterans, including at least one former presidential press secretary, worry that Carney won’t receive the necessary access to Obama, and other policymakers at key meetings, to speak from the podium with the authority that Gibbs unquestionably enjoyed.”

Underlying all of the grumbling is a larger problem of White House access to reporters. Since the inauguration White House reporters have quietly suffered levels of secrecy, hostility and denial of access. Some reporters who filed critical stories have experienced retaliation reminiscent of the Nixon administration.  Last year Politico reporter Josh Gerstein reviewed the White House hostility, citing the retaliation as an ugly surprise. He wrote:

“The ferocity of pushback is intense. A routine press query can draw a string of vitriolic e-mails. A negative story can draw a profane high-decibel phone call or worse. Some reporters feel like they’ve been frozen out after crossing the White House.”

Angering reporters has been a new policy enforced by the White House and at the Democratic National Committee to bar reporters from covering campaign fundraising events.  In some broadcaster pools reporters would be blocked; in others print reporters would be barred. Long time CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller is one of the critics of the lack of transparency. As Politico noted:

“It’s been a bit of a lonely vigil lately for Mark Knoller of CBS News. At the White House and on Twitter, he’s pushing for wider press access to President Obama’s fundraisers — so far with no luck.”

In April only two of six Obama fundraisers were open to radio and TV coverage. During the President’s recent California trip, the San Francisco Chronicle was threatened with expulsion from pool coverage of Bay Area fundraisers after one of its reporters video taped Wiki-Leak protesters at a campaign fundraiser. After the report, the White House denied it had ever conveyed a threat to the newspaper. Earlier this month the White House tried to limit a Boston Herald reporter from covering an Obama fundraiser on the grounds the reporter was “biased.”

Noted CBS’s Knoller, “It’s no way to do business — especially covering a candidate who prides himself on transparency, in a highly consequential campaign, where he’s expected to raise a billion dollars for reelection. Many of his events are in hotels and restaurants.”

This week’s deception by Carney had White House reporters scratching their heads.  They were not sure if he was lying to them, being clever or does not have key access to decision making.  None of the conclusions are flattering.