Ebola nurse meet­ing shows Obama’s lack of trans­parency

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

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.

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