Each White House is less open than the one before. When I started covering the White House in 1993, the press corps was furious that physical access to the “lower press office,” where junior and mid-level press aides sit, had been restricted. (It was later opened up.) There were elegiac memories of Marlin Fitzwater, President George H.W. Bush’s press secretary, who reporters considered to have been more open in comparison with the Clinton crowd, who were said to neither understand nor respect the press corps. When I covered the George W. Bush White House for a couple of years, the press corps nursed fond memories of Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry, and complaints about Ari Fleischer were commonplace. It’s probably worth remembering that the Kennedy administration, sometimes cited as a golden age of press access, wasn’t all that open. Would today’s press corps want to find itself serving as an intermediary between governments, as John Scali of ABC News was during the Cuban missile crisis?
Each administration takes greater liberties to spin the news than the one before, which is utterly unsurprising. State and local governments do the same. So do corporations.
The real question is what’s lost in the process. Some, but not much, I’d say. The loss of scripted sessions such as “read outs” — behind-the-scenes accounts of presidential meetings as described by White House aides — is a loss, but not one that would have deterred a Bob Woodward or Ryan Lizza from richly reported accounts of the White House. (Granted they’re not in the sealed world of the White House press corps, but the point still stands.)