These aren’t happy days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Obama White House has been handling a bundle of controversies lately — from the fallout from the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11; to the IRS targeting conservative and other groups for scrutiny; to the seizing of the phone records of Associated Press reporters and Fox News Channel correspondent James Rosen (who also had his email accounts accessed); and now revelations that the NSA has been archiving the phone records of millions of Americans.
One reason the West Wing is on edge is that mainstream news outlets are jumping aggressively on these stories — something that hasn’t always happened in the recent past.
For Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers, it’s about time.
“They [the White House] make reporters send quotes for approval,” she tells Zap2it. “They do interviews through email. This is what the White House Press Corps has let them get away with.”
“One thing I would say,” she explains, “I don’t think they are happy to do it. I think that’s one thing that people misunderstand. People think reporters like Obama more than they do. There certainly are columnists who like him, but I don’t think the basic beat reporters are that crazy about him, at least to my experience.
“But why they don’t push back on this kind of stuff … gosh, I wish I could answer that question. I have no idea. Even when you watch the press briefings, there isn’t any kind of … they’ve given up all their power, basically.
“When [Press Secretary] Jay Carney is dodging — and not to pick on Jay Carney, it could be any of them — the next reporter that comes up could just say, ‘No, I’m not going to ask my question until you answer his question,’ right? Why they’re not doing that, I don’t have an answer. There’s no reason for it.”
Since writing the April 11 USA Today column that excoriated the mainstream media for its staggering lack of coverage on the trial of Philadelphia late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell, Powers has been speaking out on a number of media issues.
On television, in print, online and through her Twitter account, Powers has been sharply critical of media coverage (or lack thereof) of certain controversial topics. She’s also taken on the way the Obama administration treats the press, and how many in the press have, until recently, seemed content with that treatment.
“The Bush administration was very controlling of the media as well,” says Powers, “and they [the media] gave in a lot with the Bush administration. The Obama administration just took it to a new level. For whatever reason, the reporters went along with it, and it could be just because editors told them to do it. I really don’t know.”
She continues, “There is a very abusive-relationship element to it. Not only that, an abusive aspect of it is the way that they just look you straight in the eye and lie to you.”
On paper, Powers may seem like one of the least likely FNC regulars to take on both the administration and the mainstream media. A former Democrat Party operative with the Clinton-Gore presidential transition team in 1992, she later worked in Bill Clinton’s White House.
“I go back to the Clinton administration,” she says, “where I was on the other side. I was working in the press office. We would never have treated reporters the way reporters are treated these days. It would never have occurred to us that we could do that.”
Currently, along with her frequent appearances on FNC, Powers is also a contributor to USA Today, and a columnist for The Daily Beast. She’s also become a kind of ad-hoc media ombudsman, which is not something she set out to do.
“Well, it’s funny,” she says. “I never really thought of it that way until I saw your [interview] request. I don’t know how that happened, and I don’t particularly enjoy it, to be honest with you. I sometimes think, ‘How did I end up being the cop on this beat?’
“It’s not really my area, but it’s unbelievable, because it seems to infiltrate everything. There’s almost no issue that you can’t, when you look at it, see how the media is screwing it up. It’s interesting that, even with the AP scandal and the James Rosen scandal, how pretty much everybody — Democrats, Republicans, most people regardless of where they were on the political spectrum — came together and said it was terrible.
“But the problem is, that shouldn’t be remarkable, right? That happening shouldn’t be remarkable. That should be normal, and it’s not. I wrote a column about this. They just sat by silently for the most part, as the White House has done this. It only became a problem when they thought it might affect them.”
Powers says she is a strong believer in justice, and that’s what led her to go public with her disappointment over the lack of Gosnell trial coverage. But it was her Christian faith that led her into circles where she first heard about the story — a gruesome and sensational proceeding that many other reporters claimed hadn’t hit their radar.
“Being a Christian has affected my worldview,” says Powers, a former atheist. “It’s not so much how it affects how I’m a journalist, it’s expanded my worldview. It’s pulled me out of the liberal Democratic bubble, which is what I grew up in, what I worked in, and just expanded my world into a world where I have friends of all different kinds, different types of Christian faith, very conservative friends.
I’d like to think even if I wasn’t a Christian, and I found out about those things, I would write about them. Maybe I’m wrong.”
When journalists have similar educational and ideological backgrounds, and travel in similar social circles, they may miss stories that fall outside their usual areas of interest. The quest for diversity in newsrooms was supposed to address that, but Powers suspects the effort is less effective than it appears on the surface.
“For [news] organizations that are staffed by mainly liberal people, who love diversity, they have almost no diversity,” she says. “They have no diversity of thought. It’s great, OK, maybe people have different skin colors, but basically that’s the only diversity you have. You don’t have diversity in terms of background, education, social class and thought, which are the things you need, and which newsrooms used to be made up of.
“They use be made up of people who weren’t j
ust from different places, but they actually thought differently about things. There were actual debates going on. Now, I feel like it’s just an echo chamber.”