Ebola nurse meeting shows Obama’s lack of transparency
President Obama, who vowed his would be the “most transparent administration in history, is going to new heights to be the least transparent administration in history. The White House last week barred reporters from attending a meeting between the president and Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola but was cured at the National Institutes of Health in the D.C. suburbs.
White House reporters, often cowed by the president, were not too happy — and even pressed Mr. Obama’s official flack about the decision.
“I would like to ask the White House, through you, to open the 1:30 event … to the full complement of print, television and radio reporters who would typically cover an event like this,” said Yahoo! reporter Olivier Knox.
“In this case, we’re just going to do the still photographers,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
“Could you explain why? I mean, is it out of concern for her? To me, it seems like it reduces the magnitude of this event a little bit.”
“Right. I think in this case we determined that the still photographers would provide the access that was necessary to ensure that you and the American people were informed about this event.”
Others also piled on. Jonathan Karl of ABC News said to the earnest young flack, “This is an important meeting. Why ban reporters from this meeting? Why ban video cameras? I mean, countless other events in the Oval Office under this president and other presidents, there are reporters present, there are television cameras present. Why does this White House decide on a meeting this important to say, no, reporters are not allowed at this event? Why?”
Mr. Earnest: “The good news is that reporters will be allowed at the event. The photo — your colleagues, the photojournalists will be in there to take a photograph of the president greeting her.”
Question: “You know what I’m saying. There are no print reporters allowed. There are no television reporters allowed. There’s no editorial presence. You’re only allowing still photographers. Why?”
Mr. Earnest: “Many of you did have the opportunity to see her deliver remarks at the NIH upon her departure from the hospital.”
Question: “That’s not an answer to my question. Why was this decision made?”
Mr. Earnest: “Because reporters did have the opportunity to see her speak already. And this is an opportunity for the president to greet her at the White House. And we did want to make sure that photographers could see her do so, but the president, nor Ms. Pham plans to make any comments today.”
After Mr. Earnest predicted the photoop would be a “really nice event,” the inimitable Bill Plante of CBS News hammered him for the anti-transparent ploy, tricking the young press secretary into exposing the move as purely political.
Question: “You said a moment ago that the reason the president wanted to see Nurse Pham was to thank her for her service. That being the case, wouldn’t you want to have him do that in front of a television camera so that the rest of the country could see it?”
Mr. Earnest: “I think in this case, in order to offer his gratitude the president wanted to do that in person with Ms. Pham, and that’s what he’ll do in the Oval Office.”
Question: “Let me ask you this. Was there a White House TV camera in that meeting?”
Mr. Earnest: “I don’t know. The meeting has taken place since I walked out here, so I don’t know.”
Question: “If there was, would you then put that on the net?”
Mr. Earnest: “If you’re interested in it, we can work with you to get that.”
Question: “No, we’re interested in knowing why, if you do, you’d make it available, bypassing us.”
Mr. Earnest: “We can engage in this hypothetical discussion after the briefing and after I’ve determined whether or not there was a television camera in there.” Ah, the old “hypothetical” dodge. In the end, no reporters or TV cameras were allowed into the Oval Office in what turned out to be a huggy event. Mr. Obama and Ms. Pham embraced, but according to still photographers on the scene, his hug with the nurse was staged.
Mark Knoller, the White House correspondent for CBS News, took to Twitter with the allegation. “Still photographers said they heard Pres Obama tell Nurse Nina Pham words to the effect of: let’s give a hug for the cameras,” Mr. Knoller tweeted.
Later, Mr. Knoller tweeted this: “TV networks and WH Correspondents Assn file protest with WH over ‘stills only’ photo op of Pres Obama and Nina Pham.”
But the White House couldn’t care less — and nothing will come of the protest. Instead, Mr. Obama and his minions orchestrated a photo op, shutting out the press so it could control the optics.
Same as it ever was. And the president wonders why Democrats are going to get pummeled at the polls in a week.
Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.
Not allowing reporters or TV cameras in the Oval Office Oct. 24 when President Obama hugged Ebola survivor Nina Pham showed a lack of transparency.