Barack Obama’s administration continues to hone its sophisticated "image machine." The White House has a huge presence on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Their masterful use of social media has led to clever graphics and seemingly candid pictures and videos of the Obama family to go viral. My personal favorite is the video of Obama launching a marshmallow cannon across the State Dining Room.
But while it seems like there’s a party in the White House, the press isn’t invited.
“[T]he Obama White House is generating its own content like no president before, and refining its media strategies in the second term in hopes of telling a more compelling story than in the first,” wrote Associated Press reporter Nancy Benac.
Obama’s interactions with the public appear to be far more controlled than that of his predecessors. Benac argues that the White House “functioning, in effect, as its own news agency” is one-sided and potentially disastrous.
Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, said the White House has a propensity to “self-publish” and use tactics “I never would have dreamed of in terms of restricting access” for independent news organizations.
“What gets lost are those revealing moments when the president’s held accountable by the representatives of the public who are there in the form of the media,” McCurry said.
Restricted access and enthralling internet content allows unfiltered White House messages to spread far and wide, much further than any president before.
“There’s no question that he’s opening and closing the door at his choice,” professor of political communication Gerald Shuster at Pittsburgh University said. “He’s controlling the flow as much as he can.”
Benac said struggling news organizations are given a limited supply of content from the White House to use and have no choice but to use what little bit they have. Reporters complain they are not getting to ask questions that matter to their readers.
Last month Obama mentioned the complaints received about limiting the press. “Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps, that we’re too controlling,” he said. “You know what, you were right. I was wrong and I want to apologize — in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.”
Benac called it a trend among politicians to broadcast their messages directly to the public rather that be filtered by the press.
Martha Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University said it is “self-reinforcing” content that affirms the White House’s view without making room for critique. “They start believing what they’re creating,” she said. “They need to hear a lot of voices and they need to hear them early.”