The press traveling with Obama on the campaign never had a lovey-dovey relationship with him. He treated us with aloof correctness, and occasional spurts of irritation. Like many Democrats, he thinks the press is supposed to be on his side.
The patrician George Bush senior was always gracious with reporters while conveying the sense that what we do for a living was rude.
The former constitutional lawyer now in the White House understands that the press has a role in the democracy. But he is an elitist, too, as well as thin-skinned and controlling. So he ends up regarding scribes as intrusive, conveying a distaste for what he sees as the fundamental unseriousness of a press driven by blog-around-the-clock deadlines.
The 21st-century press beast is a scary multimedia monster, caught up in the trite as well as the vital, and reporters rarely can be as contemplative as the cerebral Obama would like.
Sometimes on the campaign plane, I would watch Obama venture back to make small talk with the press, discussing food at an event or something light. Then I would see him literally back away a few moments later as a blast of questions and flipcams hit him.
But that’s the world we live in. It hurts Obama to be a crybaby about it, and to blame the press and the “old Washington game” for his own communication failures.
For an example of the president's thoughts about the multimedia environment, see his May 9 commencement address at Hampton University:
And meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- (laughter) -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.
The president's attitude is not simple a matter of feelings. There are real consequences, as The New York Times reports:
In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press.