Journalists and the Obama Plane: Access or Ego?

It’s on.

My colleague Jonathan Zasloff has created quite a dust-up by suggesting that the elite press corps has (gasp!) an elitist sense of self-importance. Was Ryan Lizza excluded from the Obama plane because he wrote an unflattering piece about the Democratic candidate in the New Yorker?

Who knows.

Who cares.

Jonathan is dead on: who gets on the plane is really more about press corps ego than access. For all of Megan McArdle’s high fallutin’ talk about the fourth estate, freedom, light, and how journalists are the key to protecting the American way and the future of the world as we know it, the truth is this: the Bush administration’s most disturbing secret programs (CIA black sites and warrantless wiretapping) were revealed by first-rate investigative journalism, not first class schmoozing on board Air Force One.

And if you don’t buy that, I’ve got one word for you: Watergate. Woodward and Bernstein were barely in the same zip code as the White House press corps when they uncovered the biggest scandal in modern American history. No donuts. No airplane seats. No chummy presidential nicknames or special access to the West Wing. They were working the Metro Desk. And they got the goods the old-fashioned way: by digging.

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.