Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Never impute to malice . . ."

"... what can be explained by incompetence."

As widely reported, President Barack Obama repated a rare moment of US history yesterday by taking the oath of office a second time. The oath he took of the 20th was bungled by Chief Justice John Roberts in administering it, causing the inauguree to botch the order of the words. So 31 hours later, Justice Roberts re-administered the oath to Obama at Obama's request, made "[o]ut of an abundance of caution," according to White House Counsel Greg Craig (news link).

So what's the problem? None with the oath or any possible question that the new president is properly sworn in. It's a done deal. But today some news media are in vapors that media access to the second oath was sharply restricted. No broadcast media were even notified of the event, no photographers were allowed except for the White House photog, who took the only photo extant of the second oath-taking, and only a couple or so print reporters were brought in. One of them turned on his digital recorder and captured the only audio of the occasion.

Now personally, I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, the verbatim second taking of the oath was duly witnessed by outside-the-White-House figures who can attest to its verity, not least of whom is Justice Roberts himself, and that's all that citizen-I think needed to be done.

But some media are fanning themselves because this president had explicitly promised "transparency" in his administration and his own actions. Being excluded from the second oath, they claim that already the promise of transparency has gone a-glimmering. And so President Obama is not living up to his promises, blah blah blah.

Having many years of direct experience in media relations at the national level, I can assure you that while Satan's realm "hath no fury like a woman scorned," a woman scorned is Mother Theresa compared to reporters excluded. So their claws come out and their fangs are revealed. The snit is on!

Personally, pooling coverage was fine, but I think that omitting TV and radio from the event was a bad idea. This was not an intentional snub of the media, it was a White House PR team that is still so new it hasn't learned to operate smoothly or well. It will get better. The media should chill. Their ommission wasn't from malice, it was was from incompetence. If the WH-PR team stays incompetent, then in another two or three months it will deserve the media shredding it will get. But not yet, not for this.

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