Despite constant complaints from the press corps and promises from White House officials, access to the president continues to be limited. The constantly repeated line that they’re running the “most transparent administration in history” tends to prompt snickers. Halfway through Obama’s West Coast swing, it’s tipping toward outrage.
Some -- especially those with a healthy disdain for the media (maybe that's all of you) -- will dismiss this as nothing more than the carping of an entitled profession. And, sure, there's little doubt that reporters have certain (high) expectations of how much access they should have to the president of the United States. But, whether you like it or not, the reporters covering the White House are the closest things the average person has to eyes and ears on what the most powerful person in the country is doing on a daily basis. And the simple fact is that press access to the president has shrunk steadily in each of the last three Administrations -- two Democrats and one Republican -- and seems virtually certain to continue to do so in coming administrations.
(Side note: There is NO doubt the Obama Administration has all sorts of facts and figures to back up their claim to be the most transparent in history. In the Politico story, White House spokesman Eric Schultz cited the press being allowed into private fundraisers as evidence of that transparency. But, the reality is that on matters small and large, this is an Administration that works to heavily manage the news -- and the reporters who cover it -- and, when necessary, end-run the press for its own purposes.)
Technology is the main driver of this diminishing access and transparency. The rise of Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and a zillion other content sharing sites over the past 15 years has made it immensely easier for the White House to completely cut out the media when it needs or wants to convey information to the public. President Obama announced his candidacy via an online video. He communicated with supporters during both campaigns with videos, emails and tweets that completely eliminated the media. In the White House, he turned the usually staid weekly radio address into a multimedia event in which he broke news. White House photographer Pete Souza's images -- broadcast through the White House Flickr feed -- have become the de facto visual history of Obama's time in office, largely because media photographers have faced increasingly strict limits on when and where they can shoot.
That is not to say that Obama is an anomaly when it comes to how presidents want to deal with the media. Rather, it's simply to acknowledge that the combination of technological advancements and increased savvy in manipulating those innovations have made Obama more able to limit access than any president before him. For that same reason, George W. Bush's Administration was less transparent and granted less access to the media than did Bill Clinton's. And Clinton's offered less access than George H.W. Bush's. You get the idea.
Look, if James Garfield could have limited access from the media the way technology now allows Obama to do so, he would have. Politicians prefer to act in private, avoiding what they take to be annoying/misinformed questions from the media. The Obama Administration has made no secret of its disdain for what it views as a press corps that is more interested in covering the looks on former White House press secretary Jay Carney's face than what was coming out of his mouth. There is some truth in that accusation. The rise of partisan media sites has further complicated the media landscape while also making it easier for the White House to choose friendly outlets for their selected news leaks.
Technological advancements will continue. As will the splintering of the media. And that means that the next Administration -- whether that's a(nother) Clinton Administration, a Rubio Administration or a Paul Administration -- will almost certainly succeed in further constricting press access and transparency.
The tendency among partisans is to see an administration's limiting of press access as utterly defensible when it's their side doing it and an absolute abhorrence when it's being done by the other side. But, the press' ability to have access to a president and question him (or her) about issues of the day need not be viewed through a partisan lens. History has proven time and again that the best way to keep politicians accountable to the people who elected them is an active press corps. You don't have to like the media to understand why it's important for the press to have open and regular access to what a president, regardless of party, is doing with his time.