Beltway journalists are still reeling from President Donald Trump’s first solo press conference at the White House on Thursday. They are complaining, almost in unison, that it was “unhinged” — and, worse, that Trump’s combative style, and practice of calling on non-traditional news outlets, threatens the First Amendment.
Perhaps the mainstream media Brahmins have short memories — or selective memories. Because when President Barack Obama took direct aim at the media and press freedom, few complained. And when they did, the media soon went back to giving him fawning coverage.
Here are 11 moments Obama abused the press:
1. Campaign plane “hijacking” journalists. In 2008, the Obama campaign flew 25 members of the media to Chicago — without telling them then-Sen. Obama was not, in fact, on board. CNN reported: “[T]he press was essentially held hostage with no candidate and no choice but to fly to Chicago on a chartered plane.”
2. Closing White House events to all but the official photographer. Obama barred the media from events — including, ironically, an award ceremony where he was recognized for “transparency” — and often restricted photographers’ access, only releasing images taken by the official White House photographer.
3. Trying to shut out Fox News. The Obama administration targeted Fox News for isolation and marginalization, arguing that it was not a legitimate news organization but “the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.” That served as a warning to other potentially critical outlets.
4. Stonewalling FOIA requests. The Obama administration “set a record” for failing to provide information requested by the press and the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The low point was Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, where tens of thousands of emails were hidden on a private server and deleted.
5. Prosecuting journalists and their sources. The Obama administration pursued Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private emails — then misled Congress about it. CNN’s Jake Tapper — to his credit — pointed out that Obama had used the Espionage Act against leakers more than all of his predecessors combined.
6. Wiretapping the Associated Press. After the Obama administration’s snooping on the AP was exposed in 2013, a senior NBC correspondent excused President Obama on the grounds that he would not have been nasty enough to alienate “one of the president’s most important constituencies, the press.”
7. Refusing to hold press conferences. For long stretches of his presidency, Obama refused to hold press conferences at all, going 10 months without a formal press conference in a critical stretch from 2009 to 2010. He heeled the lowest average annual number of press conferences of any president since Ronald Reagan.
8. Filibustering at press conferences. When Obama did, finally, hold press conference, he often limited the number of questions by delivering long, rambling, often condescending answers. He “wastes reporters’ time by refraining from answering questions with any candor,” Jack Shafer complained in Politico in 2016.
9. Attacking tough questions. When a Major Garrett of CBS actually asked a tough question — about why the administration seemed not to be trying hard to free Americans held by Iran, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian — Obama scolded him: “Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.”
10. Appearing on fringe outlets. While media elites gripe about conservative journalists being given a chance, Obama often restricted his appearances to fringe media: Inside Edition; Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns (which was then nominated for an Emmy); YouTube stars; and a radio show called “Pimp with a Limp.”
11. Iran deal “echo chamber.” The Obama administration created “fake news” to support the Iran deal, setting up what it later boasted was an “echo chamber” of “experts” who would comment in the media to support the White House narrative on the negotiations. Meanwhile, key details were hidden from the public.
Many mainstream media journalists ignored the Obama administration’s abuses. A few spoke out against them. But most of them continued to paint him in glowing terms, regardless.