NOW with Alex Wagner | February 22, 2013
>>> it is one of the first rules of journalism. don't become the story. this week the press had a hard time staying out of the headlines. exhibit a. the problem over bright bart's friends of hamas story. the one suggesting chuck hagel may have accepted donation from a terrorist group that does not exist. the story was later debunked, but only before it bounced around sites like red state and the national view and drew attention from rand paul who said it's very tunnel trouble, and i've just seen the press report, to i'm about to have to look at what the response is and what the group is, and that kind of thing. it's very concerning. he's going to have to respond to this.
>> jay carney made light of the foe controversy at yesterday's briefing when asked if huhhingel would withdraw his no, ma'am nation nation.
>> absolutely not. if my suggestion to the -- might have been found in the meetings of the friends of hamas .
>> the white house too found itself on the defensive this week accused of withholding by a press corps fed up with its limited access after the press's weekend golfing trip to florida. said white house correspondent association president ed henry , says this is a fight for more access. "it's not about golf. it's about transparency and access in a broader sense. the white house strategy is shutting out the papers of record in favor of softer media environments and direct messaging via social media has not gone unnoticed. the washington post reports when obama does media interviews these days, it's not with a newspaper. tv gets the bulk of the president's personal attention from his frequent appearances on "60 minutes" to mtv to chit chats with local stations around the country. obama may be the least newspaper-friendly president in a generation. "the post's" last interview with the president? 2009 . the wall street journal ? 2009 . the "new york times". s 2010 . the l.a. times and boston globe , never. his hometown papers, amazingly, no love for chitown. a big fat sfwler. here now to discuss the fourth estate is part of our weekly up now extravaganza, mr. chris hayes .
>> how are you, alex?
>> i'm great. so, chris , let's talk first about -- let's go in reverse order here. in terms of the white house and the question of transparency, where do you -- where do you sit on this? i notice you were reacting to those statistics, and didn't know whether it was indig nation or shut your trap, white house press corps .
>> there's a lot of -- i think it's actually a complicated story. first of all, yes, he gives less interviews to newspapers. newspapers are less important. i mean, to say that he is the least newspaper-friendly president in a generation, american consumers are the least newspaper-friendly consumers in a generation.
>> we are also waiting for our presidential interviews .
>> that actually is the broader point is that he has had far fewer press conferences than any president many recent memory, and he is not particularly --
>> i don't think that's true.
>> i thinks, yes. less fewer than about george w. bush . i had the number somewhere. perhaps our control room can get it. in terms of his availability to the press and we have some folks who i think can attest to that. sam, you are --
>> i am a member -- i am a member of the white house correspondence association. i have not gotten an interview. you know my e-mail address. i do think there's an access problem. i'm not sure about the statistic on press conferences, but, lisp, access and transparency --
>> two extremely different things.
>> i think there's a problem with both. it's not about golf. screw golf. golf is an idiotic way to start this fight.
>> that to me is what is so revealing.
>> i understand it. it's dumb. it's about big things like drones. it's about, you know, opening up the process of health care . when you made a promise during the campaign that you were going to have proceedings on c-span, you have to be held to some sort of standard.
>> i totally agree with that, but wropt to dmros over too lightly on where they chose to plant their flag and when the white house correspondence association wrote their letter they were frustrated. what were they frustrated about? they were frustrated they didn't get a picture of tiger woods and the president. the reason they were frustrated is because that would have been traffic and it would have been a lot of news, and everyone would have talked about it. does the president want to be seen with tiger woods ? tiger woods did all those horrible things. oh, my god, now tiger woods and the president are together. what does that say about blah blah blah ?
>> one of the things that's really at stake here is that the white house is choosing to use social media and other forms of nontrifshl journalism because they know that's how information is going around society to a greater and greater degree.
>> my point -- let me just finish this point. you can see it's about drones, right? yes, actually. there's an olc memo that finds tremendously dubious constitutional reasoning for why the u.s. government can kill without due process an american sit sdmren, right? ed henry didn't write a letter about that. heck, i don't know if ed henry is -- reporters at the "new york times" have, right? where do you plant your flag and that shows what your values are. you can't walk back and say this is also about drones. if it's about drones, then go after him on drones. don't do it.
>> the tiger woods picture should certainly be sdret?
>> i agree it's ain't federal case.
>> i just don't care. why do you care?
>> you're putting a lot of --
>> why do you care?
>> you are putting a lot of the onus on the reporters' side. ben's point is the white house side. what is the big deal ? what is the big deal ? what is the big deal ? from the white house percent period of time, why do they not just have one photo? why do they --
>> this is the trip to pay golf. is the security for the balls if i can't take a picture? i don't think they're -- i agree it's not a big deal , but it is a reflex to not show the public things that they're paying for.
>> here's the vicious cycle that i think everyone is locked in. there's a huge collective action problem , right?
>> the more competitive everything gets, the more there's always going to be some outlet that will accept the restraints and say we'll not name you. that's a huge problem. that has to be dealt with collectively because there's always going to be some competitor who will sell you out, but let me say this. about this idea of, you know, why not the pictures, right? there is this kind of vicious cycle i think which is as access gets restricted, then when you do have access, you look for the thing that is going to maximize hits or traffic or buzz. that means looking for the thing that is the most controversial and so back and forth that goes because when they do grant access, then it's everyone is he is golfing with tiger woods . does the president hate women? then that's going to be the story, and the white house is going to say of course we shouldn't have shown you the picture.
>> chris , you will take a photograph on an iphone. someone who is there on the golf course , post it on the internet, and suddenly it's viral anyway.
>> or more specifically, you can have your propaganda photographer take pictures, release the flicker and control the president's image in a way that feels transparent, feels like images, but it is totally controlled. i think that's why the photographers are upset.
>> there is a major collective action problem , and it's an institutional problem that the press corps has, which is ideally we all bandy together and pren protect our own interests, and boycott some press conference they want to disseminate news and that will never happen because everyone wants to be the person who gets the scoop.
>> we started talking about the bright bart thing, and i think there's an interlinkage which is to say the atrophying through journalistic missi iic muscle. i think when you have a white house that is so loathe to interact with the mainstream media where i cannot tell you how many times we have played clips of obama talking about the drone program on the daily show because that's the best piece of sound we have.
>> at some point that's --
>> that's a choice that they make.
>> not to go to the papers of record where honestly he will face some tougher questions.
>> i can't get anyone from the white house ever to come on my show ever ever.
>> and pi -- we talk about bright bart and say, oh, conservative media , there's no rigor there. the new yorker has a pretty fair, i think, assessment. i will read this. friends of hamas and andrew bright bart. at best reporting is like science. you form a hypothesis and you try to prove it. this, unfortunately, is a lesson that a certain part of the conservative media doesn't i'm e seem to have learned yet. we're talking about reporting of facts -- or, sorry, of rumors and not facts, and i think once we have this sort of playing field where rigor and journalistic integrity and asking tough questions is no longer the order of the day , then this kind of journalism is --
>> what i loved about that story was when they -- when he heard about the -- when he heard about the friends of hamas . he didn't go to google to see if this was a terrorist group or any watch list . he went to the white house and said can you confirm this. the white house now has to be the fact checker for this purpose. that's an absurd.
>> in the old days somebody might have printed this in a hand newsletter or something like that, but now i think there's this -- if you are a reporter, you're operating in an environment where the readers have seen all this stuff. say like some of the menendez reporting on the right, which may well be true, which they went with when it felt 75%, where i wouldn't have been comfortable with that level of confirmation, but it dent look totally bogus. what do you do? do you ignore it?
>> you have a race to the bottom problem. you have a race to the problem --
>> is it the bottom? it's a race to readers seeing inside the reporting process.
>> it's friends of hamas . it's the bottom. that's the problem where.
>> on alex's point on the new yorker and trying to punch holes in the stories. the good news, if you like, is if some of the reporters aren't doing that anymore because they're playing to their own audience, the collective of the internet and the fact that you have the bloggosphere today means you can punch holes in other people's stories much faster. if you want to be optimistic, what the story shows is actually there is a lot of checks and balances. there are lots of checks and balances today in the media, and --
>> the hole wasn't punched quick enough so a republican senator couldn't raise questions. say --
>> that means -- it's a problem.
>> the problem increasingly is the white house retains monopoly power , right? there's only one sxwhoushgs they control what the white house does. the press used to be largely an ologopolistic enterprise that they could do although things that they do. as that becomes more competitive, that competition creates its own dynamics, and those competitive dynamics do not affect the white house because the white house --
>> you're going deeper than i ever thought.
>> that is the problem. that's the fundamental asymmetry.
>> so clarify, president obama in his first term held fewer press conferences than bill clinton , george h.w. bush , or george w. bush .
>> really. that doesn't surprise me at all.
>> we know that he did have an off the record sitdown yesterday with some members of the news media off the record. maybe one day that will be on the record.
>> the reverend al sharpton just interviewed him, and al will be on my show this sunday when we have this discussion.
>> by proxy you are intifg the white house .
>> that's about as close as i go. i basically said can you get me someone who has talked to the president?
>> there are a lot of stewards.
>> that seems --
>> chris , you're going to be talking more about this this weekend on "up." sfwla yes, excitedly.
>> i can see.
>> the theories abound. thank you as always, my friend, for joining us.
>> be sure to catch chris on "up" this and every weekend on msnbc at 8:00