Holding an office of power brings a problem with it: You have to ensure the security of the person holding office, but he or she still has to be able to do his or her job of representing the people. This means though, the person being protected is always actively trying not to lose touch with the people they are representing. This phenomenon is generally referred to as living “in the bubble.”
This is hardly a new problem, but over the years, the effect has increased. Now a high official’s visit turns regular buildings, such as USF’s Theatre 2 last week, into a fortress. Metal detectors, Secret Service and background checks for members of the press are quite common and are almost accepted as normal.
Even members of the press are encountering increasing hurdles. Often they can only report the information that is given to them in a controlled fashion, a practice none of them like.
One reporter who saw such changes first hand is Helen Thomas. Covering the U.S. Presidents for 57 years, often traveling with them on Air Force One as they went abroad, she probably got more insight into the presidency and its pitfalls as anybody else. In her autobiography, Front Row at the White House, she laments that the good old days when President Jimmy Carter played softball with members of the press seem to be gone. Now the tone of President Richard Nixon, who “graciously” gave the press a new press room in order to better control them, seems to be the more prevalent way of treating the press.
Today, even presidential candidates such as John Kerry have trouble communicating not only their message to the press, but also appearing as likable human beings to the public while not giving up their protection.
Waiting for Kerry to address questions of the press after his discussion panel had concluded last week, the exchanges of flippant remarks between reporters were quite interesting. One reporter, looking at his watch wondering if he would still have time to file a story before deadline, said Kerry probably made the decision his time was more important than anybody else’s over 40 or 50 years ago. Other reporters laughingly agreed.
Did Kerry have a good reason to let the press wait like this? Who knows. But the fact that the press was kept wondering why they had to wait shows the difference from the old days when even the president would routinely call reporters into the Oval Office for a chat, rather than appear in controlled environments such as press meetings (or as in President George W. Bush’s case, not speak to the press at all unless it is unavoidable).
Such behavior is not only evident in the highest office in the country, though. Even local officials have their own capable staff of media relation experts to deal with the press. When they lose control over when and how a story is reported, even they can get annoyed and overprotective of their interests. During the heights of the Sami Al-Arian controversy, asking questions would therefore often garner a “no comment” from USF President Judy Genshaft.
Naturally, such reclusive behavior is understandable to some degree. With 24-hour news channels, Web sites of major papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post being updated around the clock, stories are published or broadcast much faster and more often than ever before. If the president would start playing softball on the White House lawn with members of the press today, like Carter did, we’d almost certainly receive live coverage.
And even though holders of such offices know their private lives will not be as private anymore once they take the step into public service, they may still try to protect some of it. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan recently told members of the press “We hope that the media will continue to show respect for (George W. Bush’s) daughters and allow them to go about their lives …”
In this case the press did not accept this reason, as Bush’s daughters will be actively campaigning and are therefore fair game for news coverage. But I guess you can see both sides of the problem.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and an Oracle Opinion editor.