Opinion: Columnists

David Freddoso: Obama rouses the cicadas of the press

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Barack Obama,Media

White House press secretary Jay Carney could only explain his problems on Wednesday by telling reporters, "[T]here are a lot of you, and you're good at your jobs and you're smart."

As easy as it might be for Carney to lob such insincere praise at former journalistic colleagues, such posterior osculations must be embarrassing for a White House so accustomed to having the press in its back pocket.

Carney's job has become more difficult in the past two weeks. Where his explanations were accepted at face value in the past, he is now met with deep skepticism.

Suddenly, the never-ending litany of excuses and buck-passing is no longer acceptable. To blame Benghazi on "political motivations on the Hill," blame the IRS scandal on "bureaucrats at the IRS," and to slough off the Justice Department's spying on reporters as a matter "handled independently by the Justice Department," all at once, is just too much now.

"It is the president's administration," AP's Jim Kuhnhenn pointed out at a recent press briefing. "Doesn't responsibility for setting tone and setting direction ultimately rest with the president on these matters?"

Another: "[Y]ou just said, categorically, that you could say no one from the White House or on the president's political team was involved. ... And yet, the bulk of this press conference is you saying, 'You don't have all the facts.' "

One of Carney's formerly effective dodges inspired Bloomberg's Hans Nichols to remark: "You just dinged us for not asking precise questions. Here I am asking precise questions and you're acting like I'm petulant."

Carney's rejoinder, "I can't believe anybody would call you petulant," was met with Nichols' petulant reply, "Or you forthcoming."

America could have used a press corps this adversarial before the last election. Where were they when Obama's stimulus and green jobs unicorns never appeared? We knew about the gangland treatment of Chrysler's secured creditors in 2009.

The administration's dissembling in response to Benghazi was a clear sign last fall that something was wrong well beyond Mitt Romney's bad press conference of Sept. 12, but you wouldn't have known it from the coverage then.

In the cases of Operation Fast and Furious, in which the government put thousands of guns in the hands of Mexican cartels, not even a presidential claim of executive privilege was enough to inspire journalistic curiosity about the malfeasance and dishonesty that lay beneath.

Tough questions were asked routinely once -- when Scott McClellan was still doing his best impression of a deer staring into oncoming traffic. The White House press corps knows its duty when there's a Republican president.

But why this current great reawakening of the Fourth Estate? Liberal mainstream journalists haven't forgotten Obama's party affiliation. The problem is the Justice Department's spying on reporters, apparently as a first investigatory resort and in apparent contravention of the federal guidelines that exist for this sort of investigation.

The problem is that Obama doesn't seem bothered enough by this to pick up the phone and simply tell the Justice Department to cut it out.

The furtive seizure of journalists' telephone records -- work, home and cell, and in the case of Fox News' James Rosen, even his parents' phone -- is more than an imposition on reporters' personal privacy.

It undermines the freedom of information and the press that the Founding Fathers extolled as intrinsic to free society. The snooping has already frozen AP sources in government, according to Gary Pruitt, AP's CEO.

It's not hard to see why: "They fear that they will be monitored by the government."

This is a language that journalists in that White House briefing room understand.

In the AP case, the seizure appears to be retribution for the refusal of its editors to hold a sensitive story (beyond the five days they had already waited out of respect for national security) so that the White House could be the first to announce it in a press conference the following day.

In Rosen's case, the warrant application actually asserts that Rosen was a criminal co-conspirator for having done his job -- in what is apparently the first-ever such claim by the government.

With the Benghazi and IRS scandals raging, Obama needed the sympathetic coverage to continue. It might eventually resume, but he couldn't have picked a worse time to rouse the cicadas from their years-long slumber.

Washington Examiner Columnist David Freddoso is editor of the Conservative Intelligence Briefing.

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