The seriousness with which you take the dust-up between the Boston Herald and the White House over a page-one Mitt Romney op-ed piece depends in part on whether you think the Herald was actually restricted from covering President Obama’s fundraising trip to Boston on Wednesday.
Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld, for instance, takes a shot at a “few self-described media critics” who thought White House spokesman Matt Lehrich’s inflammatory email to the Herald was a worse offense than “apparently restricting access to punish perceived unfriendly media outlets.” I know Battenfeld is referring to me, because we kicked it back and forth on Twitter a bit. (And rather than “self-described,” Joe, why don’t you say “as described by Fox News”?)
Yet according to the initial story, by the Herald’s Hillary Chabot, Lehrich’s email made it clear that the Herald had not been restricted — that is, the Boston Globe’s Donovan Slack had already been given the pool slot, and the Herald would be considered for pool duty in the future. Seen in that light, Lehrich’s thuggish complaints about the Herald were entirely gratuitous, and in fact really were a worse offense than what the White House did to the Herald. Because the White House, as best as we can tell, did not do anything to the Herald.
At Mediaite, Tommy Christopher quotes White House deputy secretary Josh Earnest:
Our policy is clearly articulated in the on the record comment that the Herald received on tuesday: in this particular instance, the Boston Globe had arranged with the White House Correspondents Association, independent of the White House press office, to be part of the traveling press pool. As such, there was no need for an additional local pooler in Boston. As we have in the past — including the multiple occasions on which the Herald has supplied local pool reporters — we will continue to consider the Herald for local pool duty during future visits.
Also, you should note that Herald reporters were granted access by the White House: to witness the arrival of Air Force One in Boston, to attend the President’s remarks at his first event and to review the written accounts of the small group of traveling reporters who covered the president’s second event on behalf of the entire White House press corps.
… Lehrich’s original response made clear that the Romney op-ed had nothing to do with the decision to go with the Boston Globe for the press pool, a decision that wasn’t even made by the White House. As Earnest points out (and I concur, from experience), it is not customary to increase the size of the pool contingent to accommodate a special request. Perceived fairness had nothing to do with this.
Why bring it up, then? This press office has never been shy about letting reporters know when they think we’ve been unfair, and this appears to be a somewhat heavy-handed example of that.
But if this isn’t quite as big a deal as the Herald’s massive, self-congratulatory coverage would have you believe, it’s also an exaggeration to dismiss this as much ado about nothing. The Phoenix’s David Bernstein, a former colleague whose views I respect, nevertheless veers a bit too far in that direction, writing that “as far as I can tell, she [Chabot] and the Herald have not been denied anything by anybody — which did not prevent them from splaying their victimization on the front page.”
Bernstein does refer to Lehrich’s email as “ham-handed,” but I think it’s quite a bit worse than that. It’s pretty disturbing that a newspaper would apply to let one of its staffers be a pool reporter and, in return, receive an email from a flack whining and complaining about Romney’s op-ed, and strongly suggesting that there might be repercussions. It creates the impression that the White House rewards its friends and punishes its enemies, even if there’s nothing on the record to suggest that’s what really happened. And it doesn’t help that Lehrich, who ought to be fired, calls Obama political consultant David Axelrod “Uncle Dave.”
Yes, of course the Herald went overboard. That’s more or less its mission statement when stuff like this happens. But I’m glad the paper brought Lehrich’s miserable email to light — and that it became a national story.