Behave! The White House Is Watching (And Video Taping) The Press Corps

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I am actually a big fan of “West Wing Week,” the White House’s eternally chirpy and upbeat, behind-the-scenes online video recap of what the press office wants you to know about how President Obama spends his time. It is quick paced, often funny, and the access is fantastic. It’s also propaganda, of course, not news.

In this week’s episode, we learn that Obama loves his wife and daughters, pals around with John Glenn, cares about the economy and was friendly with the British Prime minister. Never mind Shirley Sherrod and all that stuff.

But I post today’s episode mainly because of the last few seconds, in which the White House’s inestimable press wrangler Ben Finkenbinder reveals that West Wing Week is also a weapon that can be used against the press corps if they misbehave. Very funny stuff.

This is an inside joke, so allow me to provide some context: We in the White House press corps are generally an amiable bunch. But that does not mean we are easy to herd in and out of the Oval Office, Air Force One, press vans, burger joints or any of the hundreds of other places the president tends to travel. There can sometimes be some pushing, or some lingering. Finkenbinder, a consumate pro, is charged with keeping us all from our worst instincts, and he does a fine job of it. On more than one occasion, he has protected the White House corps from bullying foreign officials and pushy foreign press on overseas trips.

But in this clip he is making an important point about how the Internet is transforming the experience of news gathering. We in the press are not the only ones with cameras anymore. Just as we watch White House staff to make sure they do not step out of line, the White House staff is now watching us. And if we behave badly, the White House might just put us all in a video on its blog. In other words, Michel Foucault can rejoice from the grave; President Obama has a tracker of his own.

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