Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Politicians and their background briefings to journalists

An interesting insight into how the political game is played is described today on the New York Times website.

Calculated Candor Inside Obama’s Off-the-Record Briefings - The New York Times:
"Hours after President Obama announced in a 2014 speech that he was escalating his campaign against Islamic extremists, a number of prominent columnists suggested they knew exactly what he was thinking.

Michael Tomasky, a correspondent for The Daily Beast, wrote that “Obama clearly feels he has the constitutional authority to go after ISIS anywhere and everywhere.”
Gerald F. Seib, the Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was equally certain about what “the president calculated.”

The next day, Fred Kaplan wrote in a Slate column that “Obama is loath to bring Iran or Assad’s Syria — both Shiite regimes — into the alliance” and asserted with confidence that “Obama is allergic to ‘mission creep.’” 
What none of the journalists told readers, because they had promised the White House that they would not, was that their attempts to portray the president’s intentions had followed a lengthy and secret meeting with Mr. Obama the day he delivered the speech. 
Technically off the record, the president’s extended conversation in the Roosevelt Room that afternoon with 18 prominent columnists was part of a White House tradition aimed at influencing Washington thought leaders without leaving fingerprints — and without fear that an offhand comment from the commander in chief would spark the latest social media firestorm.
This practice is not unique to the White House but part and parcel of the interaction between politicians and journalists everywhere.
What is unusual is to see a newspaper actually writing about the process and all credit for the NYT for doing so.
And credit too to President Obama for being the first president to publish White House visitor logs that document who attends the discussions. It is now possible, as the Times story noted, to match up the columnist briefings with the columns that result.
A pity that the same policy is not followed by the Australian Prime Minister.
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