White House freezes out Boston Herald over editorial?

The Boston Herald reports today that the White House kept their reporter out of the media pool for an upcoming fundraising appearance by Barack Obama as punishment for an opinion piece that the newspaper ran — or more accurately, for where it ran.  A White House spokesman chided Herald reporter Hillary Chabot in an e-mail exchange for the Herald’s placement of Mitt Romney’s essay on the front page of the newspaper, while simultaneously denying that the administration had anything to do with the decision to bar the Herald:

The White House Press Office has refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama’s Boston fund-raiser today, in e-mails objecting to the newspaper’s front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed, saying pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to a Herald request for full access to the presidential visit.

“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.

But Lehrich said the Herald wasn’t purposefully barred from the press pool, saying local pool duty by the Boston Globe was arranged earlier with the White House Correspondents Association. And Lehrich insisted the Herald may yet be allowed into Obama events.

Oh, gosh … may they?  How awfully generous of our overlords to allow for that possibility!  The Herald may not be the largest newspaper in the region (that’s the New York Times-owned Boston Globe) but it is a significant newspaper in the Boston area.

Romney’s campaign quickly responded to the objection, noting that it may have been Romney’s topic that annoyed the White House:

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom defended Romney’s March 8 opinion piece:

“That op-ed was about jobs, which apparently is a sensitive subject for the thin-skinned people around the president. The White House may be able to manipulate pool coverage, but they can’t manipulate the fact that millions of Americans are out of work because of President Obama’s failure to create jobs and get our economy moving,” Fehrnstrom said in a statement yesterday.

Joe Battenfield wonders why Obama and his team appear to be somewhat less than courageous when it comes to facing a skeptical press:

We all know Obama has an aversion to tough questions. During the campaign, he would refuse to engage with most local media, and reporters who camped out at the rope line got a stern talking-to from a campaign staffer.

But using the White House press pool to possibly punish or reward media based on what the White House considers “fair” coverage? This is taking the control freak thing to new levels.

I’ve been on many press pools and can’t remember getting denied access because of which media outlet I worked for. Even when the Herald was writing critical articles about former Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988, his campaign never bumped us off the plane or kept us off the pool based on what we wrote. Same goes for President Clinton. You think Gov. Deval Patrick likes having the Herald and other media follow him around all day? No, but it’s part of his job.

But apparently this White House has a different view. It has a special place for perceived “unfair” media — at least 500 feet away.

Hey, those are the lucky reporters.  Others get shoved into locked closets.

The White House shouldn’t decide on media access based on which outlets will paint him in the best possible light — and those media outlets that do get selected on that basis should really be the first to object, as it reflects very badly on their objectivity.  But it’s perhaps even worse that the Obama administration feels that they can publicly manipulate their media coverage in such a ham-handed manner and think that they could get away with it.