Was A Question Staged at Yesterday’s Presser?
If so, in terms of presidential press conferences, that’s a real “freedom of the press” no-no. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is pretty sure that a question from the Huffington Post was, in fact, staged:
After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.
Milbank reports that he knew Pitney was there because Pitney had been contacted by the White House and was escorted by White House staffers to the reporters area and told he’d probably be called on. Milbank takes it from there:
Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.
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.
I bring this up because while it may seem trivial to some, it points to the lengths this White House will go to stage manage even such events as press conferences. Manipulation of the press is usually much more circumspect than this and doing it as they did with a grinning Rahm Emanuel standing on the sidelines points to a certain arrogance and cavalier attitude toward the tradition of freedom of the press.
But yesterday’s daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner — from the Huffington Post.
Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question’s wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday’s show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia.
Milbank says what wasn’t discussed was Afghanistan, Iraq, or many other critical topics with the time, instead, given to those with the prearranged questions. Not good. Not healthy. But, as Milbank points out, pretty ironic.
Part 2 happens tonight with the ABC informercial for the President’s health care plan.
From watchdogs to lapdogs, the media, with the exception of those like Milbank, simply play along.