President Obama spent Presidents Day weekend in Palm City, Fla., at an exclusive golf and yacht club called the Floridian. By the time he flew back to Washington on Monday, his three-day golfing trip had drawn "criticism from the Right, shrugs from the Left, and complaints about lack of access from the White House press corps," says George Bennett at The Palm Beach Post. The first two reactions are hardly noteworthy, but the White House correspondents don't usually issue statements like this, from Fox News' Ed Henry, president of the group representing the press corps:
Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online, and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend.... There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: Transparency.
Here's what the press was specifically peeved about: On Sunday, Obama played a first-ever round of golf with Tiger Woods, and the only journalist on hand to observe the game was Golf Digest's Tim Rosaforte, who found his own way into the club — he's reportedly a member. Obama played with Woods against outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Jim Crane, the owner of the resort and the Houston Astros — and not surprisingly, Obama and Woods won the game, and $15. (Watch Rosaforte discuss the outing below.) The White House issued a short statement, via deputy press secretary Josh Earnest:
The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings. It's also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.
Obama did end up speaking with the frustrated reporters for 10 minutes on Air Force One en route back to Washington, though the conversation was off-record. When Obama's helicopter landed at the White House, it was clear the press was still focused on the big question: According to the pool report, a group of reporters shouted, "Did you beat Tiger?" And Obama reportedly just smiled and continued on inside. So, here are five ways of looking at the weekend's top story in presidential news:
1. Let Obama golf in peace
"The White House press corps is pissed at the president," and their frustration is understandable, says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. Reporters were stuck in Florida for the weekend with nothing to do, at great expense to their employers, just in case anything newsworthy happened. But "when Obama is on vacation, and not making any pretense of working, like this weekend, the boredom seems pointless." At the same time:
The president's on vacation. He's entitled to a few days off. He's not making any news. It's not him, it's you. Give the guy a break. You'll see more of him soon enough. [Daily Beast]
"I'm all about the First Amendment and holding the president accountable," but the gossip-chasing press corps' "over the top whining about something so inconsequential makes them look childish, and churlish," says Libby Spencer at The Impolitic. Obama works hard, with little time off, and surely "he deserves a couple of days outside of the fishbowl." The Republic "will survive without knowing his golf score or seeing a photo of him with Tiger Woods until Pete Souza releases one."
2. There's a larger principle at stake here
"I've heard all kinds of critics saying the White House press corps is whining about a golf game and violating the president's privacy," Ed Henry tells Politico. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
This is a fight for more access, period.... We're not interested in violating the president's privacy. He's entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we're asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green.... It's not about golf — it's about transparency and access in a broader sense. [Politico]
3. This just looks terrible for Obama
Obama paid his own expenses on the trip, minus the travel and Secret Service detail, but after campaigning as a champion of regular Americans, golfing with Tiger and other millionaires is "off-tone," New York University public service professor Paul Light tells Bloomberg. "It makes him seem like more of a Washington insider than the strong advocate of the middle class that he wants to be." He's also taking time off two weeks before massive spending cuts kick in, and although Congress is on a weeklong recess, a golf vacation makes it look like Obama's not taking the threat seriously. "If he truly didn't worry about the optics of it, they would let people take pictures of him golfing," Bush-era White House spokesman Tony Fratto tells Bloomberg.
Let's also not forget whom Obama golfed with. "I can understand why someone who enjoys golf would want to play golf with one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game," sports columnist Christine Brennan tells ABC News. But three years after Tiger's serial infidelities came to light in late 2009, leading to a very public divorce, he is still No. 3 on Forbes' list of least-liked athletes, after only Lance Armstrong and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. When you consider that Woods is one of the the "least liked athletes on earth and.... no mainstream sponsor other than Nike wants to touch him, I would say that the president gambled a bit on this one."
4. Obama just golfed with Tiger Woods! — the public has a right to know
That's "the real meat of this story, if there is any," says Tommy Christopher at Mediaite. If not for Rosaforte's tweets, "the world might never have known of a truly newsworthy event: The first golf game ever between the first black president, and the first black Everything In Golf."
The White House only released the names of the President's golf partners after Rosaforte had already reported on them, and still hasn't released so much as an official photo. Woods has infamously been plagued by personal problems the last several years, but if he's too radioactive to be photographed with the President, then why isn't he too radioactive to play golf with him? More importantly, now that the Tiger is out of the bag, what purpose does it serve not to release an official photo? [Mediaite]
5. Welcome to Obama 2.0
Historians often talk about the "second-term curse," says Kathleen Hennessey at The Los Angeles Times, but they rarely discuss what historian Gil Troy calls the "second-term blessing": Obama never has to face the voters again. That could explain why he is "noticeably quicker to speak his mind and get personal on subjects he once avoided." And if it's hard to imagine Obama taking this sort of golf getaway before the election, it's worth remembering that Obama's schedule now often "ignores concerns about 'optics,' Washington-speak for what voters might perceive." Second-term Obama has clearly "loosened up."