How the White House Press Corps Has Changed Over the Past Thirty-Five Years

I recently recorded and later watched a PBS four-part documentary on Ronald Reagan. I was a teenager just entering high school when President Reagan was first sworn into office, so of course I was not particularly tuned in to the current events during that time in American history.  The first thing that struck me while watching the documentaries was the stark contrast between how the media and White House Press Corps treated President Reagan and how they treat President Obama. It is one thing for me to hear and read about how the media has become more liberal and biased over the years, however; it is irrefutable after I actually saw it in action before my own eyes.  I must say that it was shocking!

 I started paying attention to American politics just before President Clinton’s re-election. Even then, the media was not as biased as it is today (although it was obvious that they favored Democrats over Republicans). In fact, I used to come home from work every day during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and watch Hard Ball with Chris Matthews. I can barely stand to look at a photo of Chris Matthews today.  I first noticed the media’s leftward shift when I witnessed the difference in how the White House Press Corps treated President George W. Bush as compared to President Bill Clinton.   

The fourth series of the Reagan documentary covered the Iran- Contra Affair and how the story first broke that suggested that the Reagan Administration traded weapons for hostages. President Reagan was presumed guilty and was not given the benefit of the doubt from the media. The press hounded President Reagan asking did he know about these illegal activities, and if not, how something of this magnitude could occur without his knowledge. I was stunned as I watched how the White House Press Corps in the Press Briefing room treated him. Helen Thomas and Sam Donaldson attacked him like two pit bulls while other journalists hurled accusations at him that he was trying to deceive the American people.  I could see the hurt in his eyes as he addressed their questions and accusations. It was brutal! The White House Press Corps took a disrespectful tone when addressing President Reagan that should not have been taken with any individual holding the office of the president.

Fast-forward to today with President Obama and the current scandals plaguing his administration. Some of the journalist that covered the Reagan Administration are alive and were still journalist at least part of the Obama Presidency. Not only do the media not attack President Obama, they do not even question him about the scandals nor do they report them on their evening news. When someone interviews President Obama, he or she throws fawning softball question at him that has nothing to do with the scandals or the interviewer gives him free reign to address the issue as he pleases without even challenging him.  Did the same press hound President Obama about Fast and Furious and ask him did he know about those illegal activities, and if not, how could something of this magnitude occur without his knowledge? Of course not. In addition, what about Benghazi?  CNN President, Jeff Zucker said that he would not be shamed into covering the Benghazi Hearings. Can you imagine any network president saying that he or she would not be shamed into covering the Iran-Contra hearings? How could the media have fallen so far? Even with the Iran-Contra Affair having occurred under his watch, President Reagan; in 1989, left office with the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. What will President Obama’s approval rating be when he leaves office?

The media has all but abandoned its job of reporting the news as it happens and keeping government honest at least while a democrat is president. For a lesson in history, journalism students and anyone under the age of 50 should watch past documentaries in American politics and compare the way the media reported the news just over 30 years ago and how they report it today. I would also recommend that they pay attention to what the media thought to be newsworthy as compared to what they chose to report today. It most certainly was a revelation for me.

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