Jour­nal­ists flock to jobs in Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion GOP blasts pipe­line; strug­gling news busi­ness cited as fac­tor

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER BY JIM MCELHATTON

Pres­i­dent Obama vowed Tues­day to take more uni­lat­eral ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion to by­pass Congress, and there’s fresh ev­i­dence that Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in this elec­tion year would just as soon avoid the pres­i­dent, too.

“I’ve got a pen, and … I’ve got a phone,” Mr. Obama said at his first Cab­i­net meet­ing of the year at the White House. “And I can use that pen to sign ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and take ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions and ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions that move the ball for­ward” to help middleclass fam­i­lies.

With Mr. Obama’s eco­nomic agenda stalled in the House, the pres­i­dent will demon­strate his ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity Wed­nes­day dur­ing a trip to North Carolina State Univer­sity. Mr. Obama will pro­mote “a new pub­lic-pri­vate ef­fort to boost ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing,” ac­cord­ing to se­nior pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Dan Pfeif­fer.

But the trip is al­ready prov­ing to be a mild em­bar­rass­ment to the White House due to the ex­pected ab­sence of Demo­cratic Sen. Kay Ha­gan of North Carolina, who is fac­ing a tough re-elec­tion cam­paign this year and whose poll num­bers sug­gest she has been hurt by her sup­port of Mr. Obama’s trou­bled new health care law. Mrs. Ha­gan’s of­fice said she will stay in Wash­ing­ton be­cause the Se­nate is in ses­sion, an ex­cuse that a CNN reporter at the White House daily press brief­ing likened to “the con­gres­sional equiv­a­lent of ‘I can’t go, I’m wash­ing my hair.’”

White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney bris­tled at the anal­ogy and said Mrs. Ha­gan is “work­ing on im­por­tant busi­ness” at the Capi­tol. He said the trip fo­cused on the econ­omy is not “an is­sue of elec­toral pol­i­tics.”

But with Mr. Obama far less pop­u­lar than a year ago, and the flaws of Oba­macare still a po­ten­tial cam­paign is­sue, the pres­i­dent’s team is well aware there may be more in­cum­bent Democrats like Mrs. Ha­gan who are re­luc­tant to stand on the same stage with him. Mrs. Ha­gan did ap­pear with the pres­i­dent in Oc­to­ber 2011 when he stopped in Asheville, N.C., and she made it back to Wash­ing­ton for votes later in the day.

“With her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer on the line, Kay Ha­gan is sud­denly too em­bar­rassed to be seen with Pres­i­dent Obama in North Carolina,” said North Carolina Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Claude Pope. “North Carolini­ans know that de­spite Kay Ha­gan’s ef­forts to hide from Pres­i­dent Obama, she voted with his lib­eral agenda 96 per­cent of the time, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally en­dorsed him for re­elec­tion, and has been one of the strong­est sup­port­ers of the Oba­macare dis­as­ter.”

The pres­i­dent will meet with Se­nate Democrats pri­vately Wed­nes­day night to dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal strat­egy ahead of his State of the Union ad­dress on Jan. 28. Mrs. Ha­gan is ex­pected to at­tend that ses­sion be­hind closed doors.

As he con­vened his first Cab­i­net meet­ing of the new year, Mr. Obama told re­porters that strug­gling fam­i­lies can­not wait while Congress dithers with com­pet­ing jobs bills.

“We are not just go­ing to be wait­ing for leg­is­la­tion in or­der to make sure that we’re pro­vid­ing Amer­i­cans the kind of help that they need,” he said.

But House Speaker John A. Boehner told re­porters Tues­day that it is Congress that is wait­ing — wait­ing for the pres­i­dent to co­op­er­ate on sev­eral bills that would cre­ate more jobs, af­ter a dis­mal re­port on last month’s weak job growth na­tion­ally. He said Mr. Obama should use his phone to call Congress.

“The fact is, the pres­i­dent’s taken his eye off the ball — taken his eye off of the is­sue of jobs,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can. “If the pres­i­dent’s se­ri­ous about want­ing to im­prove the prospects for our econ­omy — and higher wages and bet­ter jobs — all he has to do is pick up the phone and call Demo­crat lead­ers in the Se­nate and ask them to move one of th­ese dozens of bills that we’ve sent over there that would help put Amer­i­cans back to work.”

Jour­nal­ism and open gov­ern­ment groups have crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Obama for fall­ing short of prom­ises to in­crease trans­parency, but that hasn’t stopped re­porters and ed­i­tors from gob­bling up jobs in his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One of the lat­est to go from cov­er­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to pro­mot­ing it is Dorie Nolt, who left her job as ed­u­ca­tion reporter for The As­so­ci­ated Press to be­come press sec­re­tary at the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

She joins at least 22 other for­mer jour­nal­ists who have worked or who con­tinue to work in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to White House an­nounce­ments, ethics fil­ings and me­dia re­ports.

They in­clude prom­i­nent me­dia fig­ures like for­mer Time Mag­a­zine em­ploy­ees Jay Car­ney, the reporter turned White House press sec­re­tary, and man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Richard Stengel, who took a roughly quar­ter mil­lion dol­lar bonus be­fore he left for an un­der sec­re­tary post at the State Depart­ment.

Con­ser­va­tives have blasted the pipe­line of jour­nal­ists head­ing into the ad­min­is­tra­tion as ev­i­dence of me­dia bias. Last year, when Mr. Stengel’s ap­point­ment be­came pub­lic, ra­dio show host Rush Lim­baugh said there was “an in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship.”

But jour­nal­ism ex­perts say for other less well-known fig­ures in the me­dia, the move likely has less to do with pol­i­tics than the prospect of bet­ter pay and job sta­bil­ity at a time when the news busi­ness is strug­gling.

“There are fewer jour­nal­ism jobs and they don’t pay as well,” said Bryce Nel­son, a jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia whose re­sume in­cludes work­ing as a Wash­ing­ton cor­re­spon­dent for The Los An­ge­les Times.

But there’s another up­side be­yond fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions, he added.

“Peo­ple take th­ese gov­ern­ment jobs not only be­cause there is more sta­bil­ity and more money, but they can in­crease their power and in­flu­ence in jour­nal­ism,” he said.

Mr. Nel­son pointed to Bill Moyers, the for­mer aide to Pres­i­dent John­son who went on to be­come publisher of Newsday. A more re­cent ex­am­ple is Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, who was com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and now works as chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent at ABC News.

For the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the lure of re­porters is that they know how re­porters work in ways that prob­a­bly es­cape pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sion­als.

“Politi­cians think re­porters can help them be­cause they know how re­porters think,” said Mike Shana­han, a for­mer White House reporter who teaches at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity.

“There’s al­ways that be­lief in Wash­ing­ton if you hire an ex­pe­ri­enced reporter then you can con­trol your mes­sage more eas­ily,” he said.

Even if a po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment lasts just a few years, a high-pro­file com­mu­ni­ca­tions po­si­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion can open other job op­por­tu­ni­ties at K Street con­sult­ing and lob­by­ing firms.

Ms. Nolt did not re­spond by dead­line. But she’s among a hand­ful of jour­nal­ists who have re­ceived spe­cial waivers from Pres­i­dent Obama’s ethics rules that aim to close the re­volv­ing door be­tween gov­ern­ment and spe­cial in­ter­ests.

Those rules state that ap­pointees can’t work on spe­cific mat­ters in­volv­ing for­mer clients and em­ploy­ers for two years un­less they re­ceive a waiver. That’s a prob­lem for for­mer jour­nal­ists who need to talk to the me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions where they worked.

Ms. Nolt re­ceived a waiver from the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment so she could com­mu­ni­cate with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Sim­i­lar waivers have been granted to Paul Franz, for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ed­i­tor at The Wash­ing­ton Post who took a job as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for pub­lic af­fairs at the State Depart­ment; and Glen John­son, for­mer online pol­i­tics ed­i­tor at The Bos­ton Globe, who went from cov­er­ing Sen. John F. Kerry to work­ing for him as a se­nior ad­viser at the State Depart­ment.

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