SF Chronicle, White House Mix It Up Over Reporter Being Banished

What happens when the once-adoring mainstream media attempts longitudinal coverage of the most-skinned, arrogant president in history? Fireworks fly.

Call it hubris for the San Francisco Chronicle, which joined its left-leaning brethren in stubbornly refusing to vet candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Call it chutzpah for a man who claimed to be “committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history.”

Whether both sides are getting precisely what they deserve, the fact remains that the Chronicle is seeing red over the administration’s inability even to get its story straight about its banishment from the print pool of one of its reporters.

The irrefutable details of the story, which broke yesterday, is that Chronicle staffer Carla Marinucci captured on videophone a group of supporters breaking into song at an Obama rally. The problem for the president, who loves being serenaded as long as the lyrics include Mmm-mmm-mmm, was the closing couplet of the ditty: “We paid our dues,/where’s our change?”

Phil Bronstein, the Chronicle’s editor at large, blogged yesterday that Marinucci was told by the White House that she would be barred from future Bay Area coverage of the president’s visits. Her offense? A statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney spells it out:

The San Francisco Chronicle violated the coverage rules that they—and every other media outlet—agreed to as part of joining the press pool for that event. If they thought the rules were too restrictive they should have raised that at the beginning.

The “rule” Marinucci broke was a restriction against print reporters’ use of electronic capture devices. Her punishment (which the White House is now denying—more on which presently) was for this breach and had nothing to do with her having gone viral with a video showing Obama in a less-than-flattering posture.

On its face, the “rule” is absurd. Every reporter nowadays uses hand-held electronic media as standard workplace tools. Marinucci even runs a semi-professional company called Shaky Hand Productions, which is widely known among politicians for providing hand-held electronic coverage of political events. As an added irony, Obama won the 2008 election thanks largely to the availability of present-day high technology. His campaign broke new ground with its reliance on social networking and the internet.

To compound an already sticky problem, the White House today is denying that Marinucci had been given the boot from the Bay Area reporters’ pool. They are also denying the claim by Bronstein that

more than a few journalists familiar with this story are aware of some implied threats from the White House of additional and wider punishment if Carla’s spanking became public.

In an update to his blog from yesterday, Bronstein quotes Chronicle editor Ward Bushee, who has called out the White House:

Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.

The Chronicle’s report is accurate.

If the White House has indeed decided not to ban our reporter, we would like an on-the-record notice that she will remain the San Francisco print pool reporter.

So far, no statement has come from White House.

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