Hail to Our . . . Censor-in-Chief?

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The White House is involved in yet another attempt to “control the message,” this time strong-arming a small California newspaper whose report on Marine One, President Obama’s helicopter, made the First Lady look too snooty.

According to The Daily Caller, the latest incident involves a small California newspaper, The Pleasanton Weekly, whose president received a phone call from the White House shortly after running a short article about Marine One in the April 20 edition of the paper.

 Gina Channell-Allen, The Pleasanton president, said they were asked to “take out part of the story because it reflected poorly on the First Lady.”

The offensive part was one line in which the reporter, Amory Gutierrez, claimed the First Lady didn’t speak to the pilots but merely acknowledged them by making eye contact.

Allen said the paper complied with the request only “because it was not worth making a fuss over.”

But she added, “I thought it was interesting, though, that the [White House] was concerned enough about image to contact a little weekly paper in Pleasanton.”

As they usually do when caught censoring the press, the White House denied this ever happened. The Caller reports that Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the First Lady’s press secretary, wrote the following in an email: “Our office has never interacted with the Pleasanton paper, and not knowing the story existed, we never asked for such a line to be removed.”

Calls to the White House for clarification were not returned.

This incident follows on the heels of a major dust-up with the San Francisco Chronicle over threats made by Obama staffers to ban one of their reporters from participating in the White House pool after she used a cell phone to record a protest against President Obama at a San Francisco fundraiser.  Not only did the White House threaten her, they also forbad her from discussing the incident, an order with which she did not comply.

Consequently, when the White House was confronted by reporters about what happened, they claimed the Chronicle’s allegations were “not true.”

Chronicle editor Ward Bushee was incensed. “Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday,” he wrote the day after the denial. “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.”

He added: “The Chronicle’s report is accurate.”

This spat took place only weeks after a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel was stuffed into a closet during a fundraising event hosted by Vice President Joe Biden in order to keep him from talking to the wealthy guests. In this case, Biden didn’t deny it, but apologized and said it was all just a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately for the “the most transparent administration in U.S. history,” they’re acquiring quite a track record of censoring the press. For intance, recall what happened in October, 2009, only days after former press secretary Robert Gibbs said the White House would not “pick and choose” who could have access to administration officials, then promptly barred Fox News reporter Major Garrett from interviewing one of Obama’s Czars. For a time, the Obama Administration waged an all-out media war on the conservative news channel, blacklisting their reporters and refusing to to give interviews, until negative backlash from the public finally forced them to behave more civilly toward those who dare to present opposing viewpoints in the land of the free.

Even more interesting is how the White House scrubbed video of a July 1, 2009 spat between CBS reporter Chip Reid and Gibbs over the Administration’s so-called “transparency” from their Youtube press briefing playlist. In this video, Reid asks why Obama’s town halls are so tightly orchestrated, with only friendly audiences invited and no sticky questions allowed. Gibbs is unable to answer.  This is also the same White House that conducted its own in-house interview with then-Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to avoid questions about Kagan’s sexual orientation.

The question of censorship has always been a sensitive one with Americans, who value their right to free speech. But we spend entirely too much time fussing about “moral censorship,” which concerns actions such as pulling offensive pornography off of public library shelves, something civilizations have done since time immemorial to prevent their cultures from sliding into depravity.

Instead, we should be focusing on the really offensive kind such as what the White House has been caught doing too many times in the last two years. It’s called political censorship and it involves government officials who deliberately attempt to distort, falsify or suppress information the public may receive through news outlets. They do this in order to prevent a negative view of themselves from being presented and to keep dissenting viewpoints silent.  

The time has come to demand the kind of transparency we’ve been promised, even if the only way to do so is to report on these incidents and embarrass the White House into making good on that pledge.

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