- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

He enjoyed unprecedented positive coverage on the campaign trail, and has vowed to be transparent with the news media. President Obama, however, has garnered a skimpy press honeymoon, though some say journalists will favor him as long as they agree with his concept of “change.”

Family relations are a work in progress.

Already, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse refused to distribute official White House photos of Mr. Obama on his first day in the Oval Office, deeming the images nothing more than “visual press releases.” Stung perhaps, the press office almost immediately granted photographers more time than usual with Mr. Obama as he signed an executive order Thursday.

Journalists also are weighing in on the new White House press office - “disorderly,” according to Major Garrett of Fox News - as well as the initial appearance of press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza compared the event to “Wrestlemania” while CNN correspondent Ed Henry cited “tough questions.”

Meanwhile, news organizations - from the Los Angeles Times to Black Entertainment Television - have publicly proclaimed they will cover the new administration impartially. The St. Petersburg Times has launched an investigation tracking 510 promises Mr. Obama made during his campaign, complete with an “Obameter” that gauges promises kept, and promises broken.

The president visited the White House briefing room later on Thursday afternoon in an effort to press the flesh, candidate-style, but was greeted with a question, which he declined to answer citing the social nature of his visit: “right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys.” Mr. Obama also said he gave his signature “fist bump” to press secretary Robert Gibbs after the spokesman’s maiden news conference.

The press honeymoon is no simple affair, though.

“Journalists often confuse the quality of a president’s coverage with the particular relations they have with that administration. The press can get very irritated if they’ve been mishandled,” said S. Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University.

A CMPA study revealed that during his campaign, Mr. Obama received the most positive broadcast coverage of any candidate in the past two decades. His election, however, changed the playing field.

“President Obama will be presenting proposals on very controversial matters. The media is bound to report the other side. If he doesn’t get 100 percent positive coverage, it doesn’t mean the honeymoon has ended. Negative coverage is now the norm most times,” Mr. Lichter said, adding that the last three incoming presidents garnered print and broadcast press coverage that was mostly negative,.

“If you’re looking for evidence of a honeymoon, the inauguration showed a press corps as in love with a president as I’ve seen in 25 years of studying the media,” said Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center.

“Going forward, the big networks and newspapers will undoubtedly stick with Obama if he fulfills their concept of change - closing Guantanamo Bay, ending terrorist surveillance, expanding government’s role in health care, more spending, ending the tax cuts for the rich, and so forth,” said Mr. Noyes, adding that the only way he sees Mr. Obama getting bad press is if he commits bumbles or gaffes like Bill Clinton’s tying up Los Angeles airport while he got a haircut.

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