Is honeymoon with Obama over already?
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s 12-day vacation in Hawaii exposed tensions with the media that presage a possible combative relationship between a Democratic Obama White House and mainstream U.S. news organizations, which were often accused by Republicans of being too soft on him during the election campaign.
In short, the media organizations are pushing for greater access. They were annoyed that he appeared in public places on several occasions during the holiday without his traveling media pool, which by long-standing agreement between successive White Houses and the major news organizations always shadows presidents and presidents-elect.
The Obama camp, in turn, appeared irritated by criticism by some media outlets that the president-elect had deliberately ditched the pool the day after Christmas, when he took his daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, to see a dolphin show. Aides said it was an honest mistake and blamed a breakdown in communication.
Some observers interpreted the trip as a sign he was chafing at the media scrutiny of his every move and was trying to enjoy some last semblance of normality with his daughters before entering the White House on Jan. 20.
Earlier in the week, paparazzi photographers snapped a shirtless Obama and his wife and daughters in their bathing suits outside their vacation home, and later Obama scattering the ashes of his beloved grandmother into the sea in what was meant to be a private moment.
The criticism over the waterpark visit clearly stung. The same day, the media pool was made to wait for hours into the night outside Obama’s compound in the midst of a 12-hour power cut that blacked out the Hawaiian island of Oahu. For the first time, aides declined to call a “lid,” jargon for signaling
he is staying in for the night.
Several media organizations have since argued that when Obama played on a public golf course, visited the waterpark and later took his daughters to the zoo, the traveling media pool should have been allowed to accompany him, instead of being kept out of sight of him while members of the public had free access to take pictures.
Obama aides counter he is not yet president and was on vacation with his young family. The president-elect made a point on the return flight home from Hawaii to Chicago on Thursday to wish the journalists traveling with him a happy New Year and say he hoped they had found some time to enjoy themselves.
Whatever the merits of both arguments, it is clear that the first 100 days of Obama’s administration will be a time for both sides to test boundaries and try to establish a working relationship.
It may also be it has all been a storm in a teacup during a slow news period, because after he takes office on Jan. 20, Obama is likely to be straitjacketed into a tight schedule that will leave little time for surprise visits to waterparks or zoos.
Reuters/Hugh Gentry (Barack Obama and wife, Michelle, board plane)