From The "Imagine If A Republican President Did This" Department

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 24, 2009

Imagine if a Republican President held a news conference, called upon a news organization to ask him a question, and then told that news organization what question it should ask.

Do we really have to go into how silly and appalling all of this is? We rely on press conferences to be adversarial in nature and to feature press independence from the White House so that we can get to the truth of a particular story. Now, however, we have the White House dictating terms regarding how a particular story gets reported.

Once again, if we had a press that was as good at its job as it thinks it is, the story that the White House is stacking the deck when it comes to questions at press conferences would receive copious amounts of coverage. Instead, there is barely a peep concerning the issue. I realize that it is the job of the White House to manipulate the press, but I had no idea that the press was so willing to cooperate in the manipulation.

UPDATE: The following, from Dana Milbank, is worth highlighting:

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn’t so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, “The Obama Show.” Missed yesterday’s show? Don’t worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting “Good Morning America” from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), “World News Tonight” from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

“The Obama Show” was the hottest ticket in town yesterday. Forty-five minutes before the start, there were no fewer than 107 people crammed into the narrow aisles, in addition to those in the room’s 42 seats. Japanese and Italian could be heard coming from the tangle of elbows, cameras and compressed bodies: “You’ve got to move! . . . Oh, God, don’t step on my foot!” Some had come just for a glimpse of celebrity. And they wanted to know all about him. “As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting,” McClatchy News’s Margaret Talev empathized with the president before asking him how much he smokes.

Obama indulged the question from the studio audience. “I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But there are times where I mess up,” he confessed. “Like folks who go to AA, you know, once you’ve gone down this path, then, you know, it’s something you continually struggle with.”

This is Barack Obama, and these are the Days of Our Lives.

[. . .]

A couple of more questions and Obama called it a day. “Mr. President!” yelled Mike Allen of Politico. “May I ask about Afghanistan? No questions about Iraq or Afghanistan?”

Sorry: Those weren’t prearranged.

  • http://twitter.com/FiveFs Jeff Sites

    When calling on one of the questioners (I think it was the McClatchy reporter who asked him about smoking), the president said:

    “[reporter's name]. Where is [reporter's name].”

    Now, it would seem to me that if you're looking out over an assembly and see someone you want to call on, you don't first call their name, then try to figure out where they are. It was pretty obvious that the president had a “to be called on” list of reporters at the podium with him.

    What I was wondering was whether he knew in advance exactly what the smoking question would be. Did he think it was going to be a general question about the recent tobacco legislation, and get somewhat blindsided by the associated question about his smoking? He took the reporter to task for (paraphrasing) “using the tobacco legislation as an occasion to ask him about his smoking”. And then he essentially said (again, paraphrasing) “It's okay, I'm a rock star and I know people are curious about me.”

    The whole press conference was actually quite amusing to listen to.

  • http://twitter.com/FiveFs Jeff Sites

    When calling on one of the questioners (I think it was the McClatchy reporter who asked him about smoking), the president said:

    “[reporter's name]. Where is [reporter's name].”

    Now, it would seem to me that if you're looking out over an assembly and see someone you want to call on, you don't first call their name, then try to figure out where they are. It was pretty obvious that the president had a “to be called on” list of reporters at the podium with him.

    What I was wondering was whether he knew in advance exactly what the smoking question would be. Did he think it was going to be a general question about the recent tobacco legislation, and get somewhat blindsided by the associated question about his smoking? He took the reporter to task for (paraphrasing) “using the tobacco legislation as an occasion to ask him about his smoking”. And then he essentially said (again, paraphrasing) “It's okay, I'm a rock star and I know people are curious about me.”

    The whole press conference was actually quite amusing to listen to.

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