TAKING A page out of the JFK play book is never a bad idea, which is what President Obama did on Monday, surprising reporters with an appearance and an off-the-record chat. Media outlets reportedly were not told Obama would be in the schmooze session.
Reporters who attended Monday’s session with the president were loathe to discuss it with BuzzFeed, citing the White House’s stipulation that the meeting remain off the record. But the session came after the White House announced a “travel/photo lid” for the day — White House parlance for no more events, and the signal for the pool reporter to go home — and reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, McClatchy, Politico, Tribune, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today, AFP, Yahoo and other outlets were milling around the briefing room waiting to be called in. In total, about two dozen reporters were included. (BuzzFeed was not invited to the meeting, although a reporter, who did not know the president would be present, requested to be included.)
New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker said reporters had not been told that Obama would be in the session, and that if he had known, he and his editors would have reconsidered whether to attend.
Off-the-record secret access is a perfect way for any president to talk to reporters, which JFK employed regularly, without having to endure hard ball questions that are reported to the public.
Between social media, the web and chummy political shows, as well as off-the-record chats replacing serious discussions with the news media, the press is complicit in the development of their own irrelevancy.