The press and new presidents: The media's double standard

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Unless you know the history and understand the context, there's probably not much about Chris Cillizza's piece at that seems unusual. Headlined, "Obama team springs leaks during transition: Rumors disrupt once-disciplined team's plan for unveiling Cabinet nominees," the piece looks at how the once-disciplined Obama team can't control transition team leaks.

Legit news story, right? Well, here's the interesting part. If you go back to late 1992, when the last Democrat was setting up shop in Washington, D.C., the press got very, very upset that the Clinton team was not leaking enough news about its transition team. And in fact, in 1993 some journalists pointed to the tight-lipped transition period to when the press' relationship with the new Clinton team began to sour.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times' reported it back in 1993:

But the exchange of [information] (and of virtually everything else) shut down abruptly during the transition period between Clinton's election and his inauguration -- a time when he might have capitalized on his triumph and on whatever goodwill he had in the press.

Reporters covering the transition sat around Little Rock day after day, week after week, waiting for announcements of Cabinet appointments and other news. But Clinton and his transition team moved slowly, held their cards close to the vest and acted as if, now that they had won, they no longer had to court the media.

The National Journal concurred in a report that year:

The amity suffered, however, as the campaign continued -- as the crowd of reporters grew and Clinton's accessibility dwindled. It deteriorated more during the transition. Reporters ensconced in Little Rock, Ark., and in pursuit of a story each day focused on Clinton's leisurely pace in making appointments and on the campaign promises he'd forsaken. By Clinton's last press conference before moving north toward his new home, the tone of the questioning had grown nasty.

So please note that in 1992, the press was peeved when the Democratic transition team didn't leak enough.

Fast forward eight years, and when the Bush team didn't leak transition-team information in late 2000, the press praised the new White House for its discipline and message control, an obvious double standard.

Now, the press has changed its mind again and writers like Cillizza suggest that transition team leaks coming from the Obama team signal weakness.

It's hard to keep track of the shifting standards, no?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.