Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2013/ 10 Adar 5773
Was Obama Afraid to Be Seen With Tiger?
By Roger Simon
This is an old White House press corps adage. The media never get all the access they want, and most presidents think the access the media get is way too much.
It is an understandable tension.
Presidents demand a certain amount of privacy to do the people's business and also to relax in a job that becomes more and more demanding in an increasingly complex and dangerous world.
The White House press corps, which for the most part is very hard working and highly skilled, believes it has something akin to a sacred duty, enshrined by the Constitution, to inform the public.
There is another dynamic at work: TV and still photographers need pictures. Radio people need sound. A print reporter can recreate an event by interviewing people and stitching a story together, but the electronic media need the shot or the bite.
So this weekend was a disaster.
The president decided to stiff the press during one of his golf outings, which is not unusual. But this weekend was different. Without announcing it in advance, President Obama played 18 holes with Tiger Woods at an exclusive resort in Florida. But Obama's traveling press pool was kept in the dark and far away.
In his first term, when Obama played separate rounds of golf with Bill Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner, the press pool had been allowed some access and pictures.
So why not with Tiger Woods? Especially since a reporter from Golf Digest and Golf World, who was apparently a member of the private club, saw the two men and did tweet after tweet about it.
The White House press corps was furious, and the press quickly struck back.
Two story lines emerged: First, a president who had once promised to be "transparent" was not acting that way, and second, the White House was behaving as if it didn't want any pictures of Obama and a man who had gone through a very messy marital breakup.
Ed Henry of Fox News, acting in his capacity as president of the White House Correspondents' Association (of which I am an associate member), issued a gale force statement:
"A broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency."
Later, Henry told me in a phone interview: "It was a direct but respectful message saying we want access, period. The president was playing not with me or you or Joe Schmoe, but a celebrity and one of the most controversial figures in sport because of his own issues. Was the White House a little nervous about putting a photo of him and Tiger Woods out there?"
The Associated Press had this as the fourth paragraph in its story on Sunday: "The White House, which has promised to be the most open and transparent in history, has prohibited any media coverage of Obama's golf outing."
The story also stated: "It seems Obama and Woods — the first black men at the top of their respective fields — have spent the past few years inching toward Sunday's meeting on the fairway."
In other words, it was a historic meeting for reasons of race, and therefore, by implication, the press pool should have been allowed to record the moment.
At the very top of the "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams" on Monday, Williams made the golf outing his second tease. Eight minutes into the newscast, Williams introduced the golf story with the headline "Getting Away" and said the president had showed a "a desire to stay out of camera range."
Andrea Mitchell, one of NBC's most respected reporters, then took over, saying the press had been "locked out," and she raised the possibility that the White House did not want pictures of the president "with a controversial figure like Tiger Woods." The story lasted about three minutes, which is a pretty long time for the evening news.
After the president got back to Washington and was walking into the White House later Monday evening, there was this pool report: "As the president walked close by, a group of reporters yelled, in unison, 'Did you beat Tiger?!?' He appeared to hear over the helicopter engines, but just smiled and continued on inside."
The White House denied that it had done anything wrong or even unusual and was only doing, as one wag put it, what was par for the course.
"But this has nothing to do really with golf," Ed Henry told me. "That's trivial. We're taking a stand: We're relevant. We represent not just our news organizations, but we represent history and the American people. That might sound hokey, but that's why we're here.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate