Press Box

Old Media District Eclipsed by New Bypass

Transportation reporter Howard Kurtz muffs the story.

Barack Obama

The Obama White House has built a “bypass” to reroute the president’s message around the pesky White House press corps, Washington Post transportation beat reporter Howard Kurtz reported yesterday.

“[T]he decision to bypass the White House press corps is no accident,” Kurtz writes. [Emphasis added.]

The verklempt proprietors of the traditional White House media district interviewed by Kurtz fear that the new artery will put them out of business.

“It’s a source of great frustration here,” CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid tells Kurtz. “It’s important for us to hold the president’s feet to the fire.” NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd calls the rerouting a “shame.” Michael Shear, a Post White House reporter, says, “What’s lost is the ability to get beyond talking points.” In a nutshell, the White House press corps feels Wal-Marted by the president.

They’re particularly aggrieved by the paucity of presidential news conferences in the old press district—President Obama hasn’t participated in one since July. Instead, the president has been meeting with non-White House reporters out at the bypass, Kurtz reports, including CBS’s Katie Couric and Steve Kroft; ABC’s Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos, and Charlie Gibson; as well as Oprah Winfrey, TV anchors, Sunday-show hosts, and even foreign-policy columnists.

Diminishing the significance of his own scoop, transportation reporter Kurtz digs into the archive to report that the bypass has been there in one form or another for more than two decades. “Every president attempts to circumvent the press corps, viewing it as obsessed with process stories and ‘gotcha’ questions,” he writes. Clinton frequented Larry King Live and MTV instead of the White House corps. Bush boycotted them and the bypass outlets when he thought he could get away with it.

But should Obama’s preference for the bypass operators over White House reporters be considered shocking? Or even news? In November 2008, two months before Obama took the oath of office, Agence France Presse was reporting the likelihood that Obama would patronize the “bypass”—where shops like Politico and Huffington Post were doing a thriving business—instead of the old district.

In 2006, the Guardianspotted Vice President Cheney as he “bypassed” the White House press corps after he had shot Harry Whittington in the face. Cheney asked his hostess to give the story about the shooting to the local newspaper instead of to the White House gang.

In 2003, President Bush sprinted out to the bypass to give five consecutive interviews to regional broadcasters instead of the White House press corps, whom he was snubbing. Nixon pulled the same regional news reporters stunt during his administration because he was feuding with the network anchors.

“[T]he tactic is nearly as old as the presidency itself,” the New York Times reports in a 2003 article. Indeed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt frequently motored out to the bypass to give his “fireside chats” on radio. According to the Times, President Woodrow Wilson took his whistle-stop tour on the bypass during his administration to sell the League of Nations over the heads of Washington reporters

Here’s the story Kurtz missed: The White House press corps is, always has been, and always will be a gang of miserable, whining whiners. Like other guilds, they excel at bellyaching when their privileges are canceled—or even when they think their privileges are in the process of being canceled. Nobody likes them, not even other reporters. Especially not other reporters. They exist to be bypassed!

There is no story here, or if there is, Kurtz has botched it. The Post should reassign him to a less challenging beat. Like the press.


(Disclosure: I have never heard John Dickerson, who covers politics and the White House for Slate, whine. Never. Not ever.) Soon the new beltway will make the bypass obsolete. Send directions to Please partake of my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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