Ann Compton on Obama: He Launches ‘Profanity-Laced’ Tirades Against Press

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Ann Compton on Obama: He Launches ‘Profanity-Laced’ Tirades Against Press

The journalist, who retired in August after a 40-year career, revealed to C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb: “I have seen in the last year Barack Obama really angry twice. Both were off-the-record times. One, profanity-laced where he thought the press was making too much of scandals that he did not think were scandals.” [MP3 audio here.]

She explained, “And I don’t find him apologetic. But I find him willing to stand up to the press and look them in the eye, even though it was off the record and just give us hell.”

After Lamb wondered if the President had a point, she chided, “We cover what we are allowed to cover. And when policy decisions and presidents are inaccessible and don’t take questions from the press on a regular basis, I think they reap what they sow.”

Despite Obama’s apparent rage against the press, he hasn’t had much to complain about. The Media Research Center documented how journalists covered-up his failures and scandals.

Earlier in the hour-long C-SPAN interview, which aired on Sunday night, but was recorded in October, Compton slammed the “opaque” administration:

ANN COMPTON: Before I walked out the door on September 10, I was a strong voice for complaining that this particular administration has been more opaque than any I have covered about what the President does in the Oval Office everyday. He is far less accessible on photo-ops with meetings. Even some meetings on the record, meeting in the Roosevelt room with financial leaders from, from Wall Street or on issues with environmental groups, or with issues with environmental groups, with public opinion leaders, I think most presidents have been far more forthcoming than the second Obama term, in terms of what the President is doing every day and we almost never get photo-ops.

She added that it’s fine for the White House to take its own photographs, but “those same elements should not be blocked from the White House press corps.”

Interestingly, on Compton’s last day in August, the President called on her for a final question. She chose to ask about the police shooting in Ferguson, not the concerns she expressed to C-SPAN.

(H/T to Heritage’s Mike Gonzalez for first noticing Compton’s comments and tweeting about them.)

A partial transcript of the October 30 segment is below:

ANN COMPTON: Before I walked out the door on September 10, I was a strong voice for complaining that this particular administration has been more opaque than any I have covered about what the President does in the Oval Office everyday. He is far less accessible on photo-ops with meetings. Even some meetings on the record, meeting in the Roosevelt room with financial leaders from, from Wall Street or on issues with environmental groups, or with issues with environmental groups, with public opinion leaders, I think most presidents have been far more forthcoming than the second Obama term, in terms of what the President is doing every day and we almost never get photo-ops. 

I think I went through a time of three or four months where I was never in the Oval Office once on my pool day. Part of this may be that the President feels a little bit on the ropes. His job approval rating is down to 40 percent consistently for the last couple of years since his reelection. He also has his own tools. He is the first president with his own journalistic tools. They’ve all had photographers. He has his own videographers. He has a newscast on Friday mornings on WhiteHouse.gov. It is anchored by his former deputy, now press secretary, Josh Earnest. I think it is fine if the President of the United States wants to present his own version of what he did all week. Most of it is behind the scenes shots of him with Supreme Court justices and leaders coming in from Wall Street. It is fine that he puts it on the internet and that everybody can see it. Those same elements should not be blocked from the White House press corps.

54 minutes in

[Recounting her experiences dealing with presidents.]

COMPTON: Every president is a human being as well as a president. And I’m often asked for favorite moments. Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. George Herbert Walker Bush goes to Camp David and convenes his war cabinet, comes back tot he White House. He stops in front of my camera and says, the Arab world is united against Saddam Hussein. I blurt out, “Mr. President, Arab leaders like King Hussein have flown to Baghdad and embraced him. President Bush barked at me and said, “I can read. What’s your question?” The next day, before  before he sends American troops to the war, he writes me a letter, saying, he was not pleased with his answers to me. below his signature, GB, is initials, he drew a happy face wearing a frown. Imagine the president of the United States taking a moment in history like that to apologize to the press.

55:50

LAMB: So, off of that experience, how many other presidents were that aware of what they said to you and how many just did not pay attention at all and you had no personal reaction from them?

COMPTON: I think most presidents realize – had a personal connection. I don’t think they ever — we were ever in a confrontation-type moment where they felt the need to apologize. I have seen in the last year Barack Obama really angry twice. Both were off-the-record times. One, profanity-laced where he thought the press was making too much of scandals that he did not think were scandals. Another where he took us to task for not understanding the limits he has with foreign policy and the way he’s dealing with the Middle East and Iraq, and Afghanistan. And I don’t find him apologetic. But I find him willing to stand up to the press and look them in the eye, even though it was off the record and just give us hell. 

LAMB: Does he have a point?

COMPTON: From his point of view, he may. But we cover what we are allowed to cover. And when policy decisions and presidents are inaccessible and don’t take questions from the press on a regular basis, I think they get — they reap what they sow.

Obama, the puppet master.

Ann Compton

Obama, the puppet master.

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By JIM VANDEHEI and MIKE ALLEN | 2/18/13 10:29 PM EST

President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.

Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated. Instead, the mastery mostly flows from a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access.

The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

“The balance of power used to be much more in favor of the mainstream press,” said Mike McCurry, who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Nowadays, he said, “The White House gets away with stuff I would never have dreamed of doing. When I talk to White House reporters now, they say it’s really tough to do business with people who don’t see the need to be cooperative.”

McCurry and his colleagues in the Clinton White House were hardly above putting their boss in front of gentle questions: Clinton and Vice President Al Gore often preferred the safety of “Larry King Live” to the rhetorical combat of the briefing room. But Obama and his aides have raised it to an art form: The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on “The View”?

At the same time, this White House has greatly curtailed impromptu moments where reporters can ask tough questions after a staged event — or snap a picture of the president that was not shot by government-paid photographers.

The frustrated Obama press corps neared rebellion this past holiday weekend when reporters and photographers were not even allowed onto the Floridian National GolfClub, where Obama was golfing. That breached the tradition of the pool “holding” in the clubhouse and often covering — and even questioning — the president on the first and last holes.

Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”