President Obama has a very carefully crafted public image, and he’s willing to shut out his friends in the press to maintain it.
Over a long Presidents Day weekend, Mr. Obama hit the links for the 114th, 115th and 116th time in a little more than four years. He bunked at the Floridian National Golf Club in Palm Beach, an exclusive gated golf community, and the traveling White House reporters were not allowed to get any closer than a seat in a bus parked just inside the gate, with an unobstructed view of a humble maintenance shed. Each day reporters got only a single email from the White House, informing them who played with the president. (Not a word about who took the most frequent mulligans.)
On Saturday, Mr. Obama’s foursome included Jim Crane, the owner of the golf club and of the Houston Astros and a big campaign donor. The White House noted that Tiger Woods‘ former swing coach, Butch Harmon, accompanied the group for several holes and provided tips along the way.
On Sunday, the press office didn’t break the golf blackout until after 1:30 in the afternoon, after all the reporters had presumably returned from church services, when it announced the president was golfing with Tiger Woods. Golf Digest reported the president played 18 holes with the champ and another nine with other friends. Mr. Obama did his best to prevent anyone from seeing him with Tiger, with his staff firmly refusing even to allow a brief photo-op of the two men on the greens. Tiger has 75 wins on the PGA Tour, which is very impressive to men, but to women who vote, maybe not so much. Tiger was caught cheating on his wife, and women are not so free with their mulligans.
Ed Henry of Fox News, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, took the president to task for shutting out the reporters. Mr. Henry wrote a letter to complain to the White House, and said his colleagues “expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend.” A White House spokesman replied that the “press access” offered — i.e., the bus at the gate — is consistent with “previous golf outings,” which is to say, almost not at all.
On Monday, the reporters were pushed further away, outside the compound to wait until the motorcade rolled to the airport for the return to Washington. To the media’s frustration, Mr. Obama talked to the pool reporters aboard Air Force One, but it was off the record. Still no word about the mulligans.
The president often hides get-togethers that he thinks wouldn’t please the public. In December, he called in the distinguished and erudite commentators Rachel Maddow, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC — Chris Matthews was said to be attending to crawly things on his leg — and the meeting became public only when the network’s host, Ed Schultz, couldn’t resist tweeting about it. Twitter, in fact, was how reporters found out about the president’s turn at the electric slide in the East Room and how he danced barefoot in the Rose Garden on his 50th birthday with Stevie Wonder, Chris Rock and Tom Hanks. Only after White House visitor logs became public in late 2009 did reporters find out that George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez and the Jonas Brothers, among others, had been hanging out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So much for the “most transparent administration in history.” This president grants access to friendly reporters when it serves his purposes. It wouldn’t be cool to be seen malingering from the class war to living it up with the rich and famous. Every president is entitled to privacy when he’s on vacation, but taxpayers deserve to know when he’s partying at their expense. And about the mulligans.
The Washington Times