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02/19/2013

Tigergate: The White House edition

Obama-woods
(Courtesy Abaca Press/MCT/Getty Images)

You might argue that the White House press corps picked exactly the wrong moment to draw its line in the sand over access to President Barack Obama.

And you'd win that argument, just as easily as Salon.com did, roundly mocking how Washington's fourth estate got up on its hind legs and squealed after being left in the dark during the less-than-earth-shattering Obama-Tiger Woods weekend golf match in Florida.

Branding the White House Correspondent Association's fury "disengenous at best," Salon's Natasha Lennard seized upon the sheer absence of gravitas. The media blowback came "not over kill lists, nor civilian drone deaths, nor warrantless wiretapping. But deny them access to Obama and Tiger Woods? Then transparency is suddenly an 'important principal.' "

Fair enough.

Except the issue of media access didn't begin with the Great Barack-Tiger Snub, and it is unlikely to end here, given the pile-on effect as news organizations jump into the frey, tabulating the many ways Team Obama is shutting them out.

Obama sought to make amends of sorts late Monday in a rare walkabout to the back of Air Force One during the flight home to Washington, where he chatted off-the-record with woebegone White House pool reporters. But the brief 10-minute encounter appeared unlikely to signal a fresh start.

As the furor bubbles along, it might be worth remembering that Obama is the only world leader whose schedule features a dedicated rotating print pool trailing at all times. On very rare occasions, the poolers get very, very lucky, called in to witness historic moments like the 2009 do-over, when U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. re-administered the oath of office to Obama after blowing the first one.

The norm, however, is that those who take shifts in the White House pool find themselves in the soul-sucking role of blind babysitters, burning away days on end without so much as a glimpse of Obama. 

That would be frustrating to anyone -- but especially to senior journos like Scott Wilson of the Washington Post, who pulled pool duty this weekend. Wilson won the respect of his peers during his years in the Mideast before his re-assignment to Washington, where he won it anew with praise for his "deeply reported and nuanced stories, his evocative writing and his clear presentation of complex issues, particularly on the foreign policy front."

Wilson himself, in weekend post dripping with frustration, described the battle for access to Obama as "near-Talmudic in its intensity and detail."

We'll leave it to you to decide whether this is really about Tiger Woods.

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

Comments

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How very sad. A man (all be it the President) goes out on a weekend for a golf game (all be it with Tiger) and snotty reporters get their knickers in a twist because they weren't asked to be official spectators. God guys, get a life already.

Stay tuned for BBQGate, as the US president holds a weekend barbeque for friends and doesn't invite the press. To be continued in Birthday PartyGate and several other stupid "Gate" stories.

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