WH Press Corps Demands Photo Ops of Them Asking about Egypt

I don’t see much purpose behind the letter the White House press corps just sent outgoing Robert Gibbs:

We recognize that the crisis in Egypt is a quickly evolving story and you are working to get us the information we need in a timely manner, but we are concerned about several access issues on Tuesday and now today.On behalf of the White House Correspondents Association we are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the White House’s decision to close the President’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and his signing of the START Treaty today to the full press pool.

The START treaty was held up as one of the President’s most important foreign policy priorities for almost a year dating back to the trip to Prague last spring. We are concerned that now his signing of it is open to still photographers but closed to editorial, including print and wire reporters and television cameras.

We know the President came out late last night to speak on Egypt, and we appreciate the email updates from NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor, but his emails have not gone to all members of the press corps and are not a substitute for access to the Press Secretary or the President.

Prior to the President’s statement Tuesday night, the press corps had not received a substantive update from the White House all day on the situation in Egypt. In addition, the press corps did not have an on-camera briefing, or an off-camera gaggle, with you yesterday to ask the White House about its decision-making process during this major foreign policy crisis. Now for two straight days the full press pool is being shut out of events that have typically been open and provided opportunities try to ask the President a question.

These issues are vitally important for all of our members – print, TV and radio.

We value our working relationship, and we hope you will reconsider and at least open the START Treaty signing to the full pool. [my emphasis]

Aside from the futility of demanding something from a guy on his way out the door, it’s not entirely clear what the press corps believes they’ll gain.

Look, the START treaty is an important victory, and if there were a chance in hell the press would make non-proliferation the focus of a big photo op, I’d be thrilled to see it. And I would love for Obama to come out with a strong condemnation of violence and support for democracy (but that’s partly because of my own impatience with Obama’s tepid support for democracy and human rights here in the US). I would have been thrilled, too, to see the US push Egypt harder in the past; but there’s no way to go back in time and make that happen now. I also think the White House approach of canceling press conferences until Mubarak does something has put them in the very awkward position of appearing to adopt a reactive stance to Mubarak which only feeds into Mubarak’s manipulation of the media.

So it’s not that I think the White House has adopted the best approach to the press during the Egyptian revolution.

Still, I don’t know what the press corps thinks they will accomplish with more public opportunities to question the Administration about what’s going on.

That’s because, to a great extent, this is not about the United States, and certainly not about a bunch of White House reporters who know very little about Egypt. The fate of history is in the hands of the Egyptian people right now.

Moreover, I think there’s zero chance that a highly controlled Robert Gibbs presser (like the one going on right now) is going to reveal anything that an equally controlled press release can’t say just as well. To the extent the White House does have leverage at this point–and they undoubtedly do, most significantly through their ties to the Egyptian military–that leverage is going to be best exercised privately. If nothing else, to the extent friends of ours in the Egyptian military can influence the outcome, they’re going to best be able to do that by appearing to act on their own, not in response to pressure from the US.

So to some degree, both the White House Press Corps and the Administration would be best served if they released a joint notice saying “we acknowledge the government is going to have to perform the appearance of cautious distance regardless of what we’re doing behind the scenes, so let’s all agree to just skip the silly theater of us doing so.”

And if the WHPC is so interested in appearing on TV championing accountability, maybe they should be asking how our tolerance for and cover-up of Afghan corruption is dooming our efforts there. After all, that’s something that the US does have direct influence over. That’s something that more transparency might affect. That’s the equivalent of the questions about Egypt the press corps should have been asking for the last 30 years.

    • MadDog says:

      I seem to be wearing my cynic’s hat today.

      I agree, and if the White House won’t do them that favor, then the press corps can only go with their 2nd most favorite interpretation that the White House is dithering. That’s not as newsworthy, but lemons need lemonade.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Completely agree.
      FWIW, my earlier comment should have made more clear that the kinds of fraud in Afghanistan can easily generate the kinds of fortunes used to speculate and drive up commodities prices.

      Sometimes it is invaluable to have a repeorder with roots in a farm state, because a lot of US power is based on food supply.
      I don’t think those WH employees understand this basic, fundamental reality. If they did, they’d be asking more insightful questions.

  1. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    And if the WHPC is so interested in appearing on TV championing accountability, maybe they should be asking how our tolerance and cover-up of Afghan corruption is dooming our efforts there. After all, that’s something that the US does have direct influence over. That’s something that more transparency might affect.

    I truly believe that good info makes a critical difference in the well-being of people.

    This does suggest things moving so rapidly on Egypt that the WH did not want to talk.

    Meanwhile, I would encourage anyone interested in good reporting and superb information to view (online at MSNBC) a report on The Ed Show on 2/1/2011 about the relationship between deregulated commodities trading, escalating wheat prices, reckless financial speculation on commodities indexes (post GHWB), and political instability.
    The Ed Show on 2/1/2011 has a related interview with former Sen Byron Dorgan.

    Every one of these WH press members would be wise to watch those Ed Show segments to see what an impact real reporting can have – in my personal view that Ed Show segment explains more about problems we can –and must –solve than all the WH reporters combined.

    That Ed Shoe segment is sheer genius.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Sorry to be tardy with the link to the Ed Show’s report on the impact of speculators on commodities trading, and the implications of that for foreign policy.

        IMVHO, it’s an excellent example of what **good** reporting would look like; it’s tough to distill complicated, complex processes and relationships on any topic, but I think this report does it beautifully.

        Do any of those WH reporters understand that part of the problems underlying Egypt’s eruption can be traced to the commodities speculations? Can be traced to absolutely corrupt economic structures?

        IMVHO, if this WHPC wants to have an impact on events, I agree with EW that whining about Robert Gibbs is a fool’s errand. If they want to have an impact, then they need to show how things like commodities speculators, economic fraud, and a corrupt financial system manifest as the kind of events we are now watching play out in Egypt.

    • Scarecrow says:

      That Ed Show segment came straight out of a chapter in Matt Taibbi’s book, Griftopia. The theory is that futures market exchanges controlled by Wall Street, typically Goldman, have an inherent tendency to create price bubbles in the commodities markets they cover. Prices continue to rise above market supply/demand fundamentals until they burst — recall oil prices getting over $140/bbl, before falling back below $50, then it starts over.

      Of course, having a threat of disruption in the Middle East doesn’t help.

      A counter view come from Krugman, who argues one can explain much of the inflation is various commodities as due to rapidly increasing demand in emerging markets, especially China. He made those arguments about a week ago on his blog.

  2. Scarecrow says:

    Marcy, as you know, I believe the Eygpt crisis is very much “about the US,” in the sense that we’ve bankrolled the conditions that perpetuated the dictatorship and built his military. All the incentives Mubarak has are affected by, if not controlled by, US military support as long as he stays in power.

    So in that sense, what the demonstrators are doing is challenging not just him personally, but the very foundation that keeps him in power.

    We’d like to have the Egyptians decide their own future, but that’s not the same thing as saying the reasons they’re protesting “is not about us,” because it partly is.

    • emptywheel says:

      Absolutely agree with that.

      But that doesn’t change the fact taht a press conference is not going to influence whether we are good actors here or bad. Nor is there anything that O could say that would do more than make protesters happy, but probably at the detriment of our ability to be positive players here.

      The BY FAR best thing we could do is pressure the military to turn on the thugs and to provide the security to allow a unity govt to take hold.

      But if we said we were going to do that publicly, it would make the military action suspect, when there’s no need to do so (not least bc they may well be leaning in that direction anyway).

    • Angellight says:

      Revolution – Liberation of Humanity

      If everyone is following my FB pages, they know the present protests in the Mideast have as their purpose the liberation of humanity (the masses, Cancer) from corruption, greed & centralized power (forces of materialism). We hope this movement of liberation is not co-opted (appropriated) by the same forces. The protests are occurring because it is the masses, having achieved a certain level of intelligence, who must liberate themselves. This revolution of liberation has been in preparation for centuries, foretold to emerge in the Aquarian Age, where we are to create the new culture & civilization under the Aquarian New Laws & Principles. But first, all unsustainable structures worldwide must tumble, collapse & fall down. As they do so, we are to be in planning & preparatory stages, especially concerning our future food supplies. I’ve written about this so often that soon no one will be listening. For those still needing to understand what there is to do, the list is always at the end of my emails.


      Seeing the pictures of the Egyptian people beaten, with bandages, actually tears at my heart and my eyes. Everyone on the planet has a universal right to be free; in reality they are free.

      And, NO — It is not about us!

  3. WilliamOckham says:

    Am I wrong to read this as:

    We desperately need a chance to be on TV and you’re cheating us out of it.

  4. KrisAinCA says:

    decision-making process during this major foreign policy crisis.

    This isn’t a foreign policy crisis. It’s an Egyptian Revolution. This is why these people sit in folding chairs and throw questions at Gibbs, instead of doing real reporting. They’re incappable of rational ideology.

  5. madma says:

    Don’t they know the president is busy and they are irrelevant. Even if they don’t know it, the WH does. Why don’t they watch AJ, then they would have something to report on.

  6. ffein says:

    I took a break earlier this afternoon and checked the TV to see what they’re talking about today — and there was news about Farah Fawcett’s red bathing suit now being a museum piece and Lindsay Lohan “borrowing” an expensive necklace reported stolen by a jewelry store…and that was enough for me to absorb for awhile…back to work….

    • nextstopchicago says:

      But a big part of the problem is that so many people genuinely care more about that than about democracy protesters dying in Egypt. I wring my hands. But I’m also trying to figure out what to do with it. How to bring these things up in polite conversation without coming off like a lunatic.

      Anyway, I’m with scarecrow – this actually has a lot to do with the US, and Obama has plenty of options. He’s tried none of them. They’ve spoken a few words, but when Gibbs was pressed about the $1.5 billion in military aid today, and I give that reporter credit – he couldn’t bring himself to say the aid was seriously on the table.

      Also, I give Cooper credit – I’m not clear whether that was snark about the 10 punches. But hell, he went over there to cover a revolution, knowing the chance of violence, in order to try to dramatize for Americans what is happening. Isn’t that what we’re clamoring for?

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Someone on a prior thread (don’t remember who) pointed out that AJ also has feet of clay that we would do well to remember. They have rich Arab masters.

        Also, the more I listen, the more I see the agendas of both the anchors & the guests. Not good enuf at it yet to give examples, but the little clip they keep playing about the pro-Mubaraks seems somewhat whitewashed. Not yet aware of what I should know about the agendas of their ‘guests.’ But I’m sure there are agendas.

        AJ IS far superior to any U.S. media. Just reiterating the warning I saw earlier, which is not to fall in love with them, and thus surrender your critical facilities.

        • mzchief says:

          Technically no communication could be considered without an agenda or filter and I am not saying that out of cynicism. I do perceive their “angle” if you will but they are data rich and I am an appreciator of that. Lots of forces at work …

        • onitgoes says:

          Very good point, per usual,eCAHN, and something that I considered as well. AJ is to be commended for the real journalism they are engaging in, which puts nearly everything purporting to be “news” or “journalism” or “reporting” in the USA to shame… not that that is a very high bar to jump over.

          That said, the media in the ME, just like elsewhere, tends to be owned and managed by other elites. Let the buyer beware, as always.

          And yeah: the WH Press Corps caught flapping & twirling per usual.

  7. canadianbeaver says:

    “Oh come on Gibbs, even Anderson Cooper got punched in the head 10 times. We know cuz he counted them!”

  8. nextstopchicago says:

    By the way, where does our money go? Here’s $1 million of it:

    >0530 GMT: Another chink in Mubarak’s armor. Mosa’ab Elshamy, who was in Tahrir Square last night amidst the clashes, tweets:

    >Some of the thugs we captured confessed the police promised them L.E 5000 (~ $1000) if they succeeded in taking over Tahrir square

    (From the Enduring America blog’s live-blog)

    1,000 thugs X $1,000 is $1 million. And that’s a conservative estimate, since there seem to have been more of them there.

    That’s the price for Obama’s Tiananmen. I say that provisionally – if he revokes the aid after this, or if the protesters win, then I’ll take it back.