The War on "West Wing Week"
BY Nancy Scola | Monday, May 17 2010
I'm been saving string in the general area of "thing that a White House can do to look transparent but actually have the opposite effect." This Paul Farhi piece about the work of the White House video unit is going in there:
The six- to seven-minute compilations, which appear each week on the White House's Web site and on such video-sharing sites as YouTube, offer what a narrator on each segment calls "your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
Well, not everything, of course. But "West Wing Week" is effectively the
White House's video vision of itself and its chief occupant, as it
would like to be seen, unfiltered by journalists.
Organized chronologically, it's a mishmash of this and that -- the president inspecting factories and farms, talking with people in diners, meeting dignitaries in the Oval Office, making major policy speeches. The blog doesn't break any news. It also doesn't show the president as anything less than presidential in word and deed; each week's video highlights Obama's efforts to address another crisis or major policy
issue, such as the government's response to the Gulf Coast oil disaster or his initiative to reform the financial sector.
As Ari Melber notes, "Find the problem: 'most transparent White House in history... WH wouldn't make Chaudhary available for an interview,'" referring to Arun Chaudhary, White House videographer. Chaudhary played much the same role in the Obama campaign, and I have a distinct memo of the campaign kicking into full freakout mode when I covered a (public) talk he gave at NYU about covering the trail.
That said, there's a good chance that too much is being made of this whole thing. Is the Obama White House really making the case that 'traditional' press is no longer needed because an in-house videographer is on the case? If so, that's plainly laughable. But in the absence of that argument, what Chaudrary is doing is offering a, yes, sanitized peek into an active White House. What's the harm? The audience isn't the politically obsessive. It's the people who have a mild interest in a "mishmash" presentation of what their White House is up to that week.