White House alleged to have punished unfavorable press, again

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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The White House Press Office received another dose of bad press Wednesday as the Boston Herald lashed out at the office after being denied full access to a third consecutive visit by President Obama to Boston.

The Herald, the smaller and right-leaning counterpart to the Boston Globe, lashed out at the press office, printing correspondence that indicated that the paper’s front-page placement of an op-ed by Mitt Romney was the reason for its exclusion.

Matt Lehrich of the White House Press Office wrote to the Herald, “I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters.”

The Herald quoted Lehrich writing, “My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits.”

Lehrich wrote that the Boston Globe had previously been selected by the White House Correspondents Association to draft the press pool report for local papers, and that “we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty for future visits.” The Herald noted that it had been passed over during Obama’s past two visits.

According to a report this month by the Boston Business Journal, the Globe’s weekday print circulation averages 219,214, while the Herald averages a circulation of 123,811.

“Newspapers don’t have to be unbiased to get access,” Boston University journalism professor Fred Bayles told the Herald. “You can’t just let only the newspapers you want in.”

The dispute is the latest in a series between the White House and the press.

Less than one month ago, the San Francisco Chronicle took on the White House over a “pants-on-fire moment” after the press office punished a Chronicle reporter for publishing a video taken of a protest during an Obama visit.

The Chronicle alleged that the White House banned the reporter from covering future White House press pools as retribution for filming during a print-only event, threatened Chronicle and Hearst reporters if they reported on the ban, and then falsely claimed they didn’t.

A local California paper in Pleasanton, California was contacted in April by the White House and asked to remove a passage that presented an unflattering description of the first lady. The paper complied, then tipped off TheDC.

Criticism of the administration’s handling of the press has transcended partisan divides.

In 2009, former White House correspondent Helen Thomas shocked many with her critique of the administration’s tight control of the press. “I’m amazed, I’m amazed at you peole who called for openness and transparency,” Thomas told press secretary Robert Gibbs. “Calling reporters the night before, telling them they’re going to be called on — that’s shocking,” Thomas said of an indicident involving a Huffington Post reporter.

In a follow-up interview, Thomas asked, “What the hell do they think we are, puppets? They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants.” Thomas continued, “It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.”

Earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden’s staff stuffed a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel into a closet to keep him from speaking with guests at a fundraiser. After the incident, a Baltimore Sun reporter revealed that in March 2010 he also had been forced to remain in a closet during a different Biden event.