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Old 06-24-2009, 05:18 AM   #1 (permalink)
People in masks cannot be trusted
Xazy's Avatar
Location: NYC
White house and free press?

Obama press conference had a staged question yesterday.


By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In his first daytime news conference yesterday, President Obama preempted "All My Children," "Days of Our Lives" and "The Young and the Restless." But the soap viewers shouldn't have been disappointed: The president had arranged some prepackaged entertainment for them.

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.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet," Obama went on. "Do you have a question?"

Pitney recognized his prompt. "That's right," he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian."

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. 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.

As if to compensate for the prepackaged Huffington Post question, Obama went quickly to Fox News for a predictably hostile question from Major Garrett. "In your opening remarks, sir, you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged," Garrett said. "What took you so long?

"I don't think that's accurate," Obama volleyed testily, calling his toughening statements on Iran "entirely consistent."

The host of "The Obama Show" dispatched with similar ease a challenge from CBS's Chip Reid, asking whether his hardening line on Iran was inspired by John McCain. "What do you think?" Obama replied with a big grin. That brought the house down. And the studio audience laughed again when ABC's Jake Tapper tried to get Obama to answer another reporter's question that he had dodged. "Are you the ombudsman for the White House press corps?" the president cracked.

The laughter had barely subsided when the host made another joke about Tapper's reference to Obama's "Spock-like language about the logic of the health-care plan."

"The reference to Spock, is that a crack on my ears?" the president asked.

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.

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.
I thought we were a country of free press, but it is more and more seeming that the Obama administration is not interested in allowing free access and free press. He has twice bashed fox news for being hard on him. Actually prepping a reporter to ask a question yesterday (It was noticeable how the president even invited him to ask that he knew what he would ask) is actually shocking and I think sends a horrible message to the country and world about us having a free press.

Then you have his 2 hour potential infomercial on ABC. ABC has as of now has not invited any major republican to offer a dissenting opinion they also declined to even allow dissenting paid commercials. I will be interested to see it just to see if ABC due to pressure from outside now will make the interview much more hard pressing on the major issues with the health plan. The sad thing is even if ABC does do that it is hard to say that was the initial plan.
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Old 06-24-2009, 05:53 AM   #2 (permalink)
Getting it.
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Location: Lion City
There is nothing about what happened there that was not free. The press are allowed to write what they would like to write about. The fact that there is an article about the fact that it was staged should tell you right there that there is a free press. If it wasn't you wouldn't be reading about it.

The truth is that press conferences have been staged events for years. You should read Daniel Boorstin's The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, it was written in 1962 and talks at length about this phenomena.

The real issue is that journalists don't do their job nearly well enough.
"My hands are on fire. Hands are on fire. Ain't got no more time for all you charlatans and liars."
- Old Man Luedecke
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Old 06-24-2009, 06:00 AM   #3 (permalink)
Darth Papa
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Location: Yonder
But... In the last couple paragraphs, the article says that the QUESTION wasn't planted, just the fact that HuffPo was there and had a question submitted directly from Iran. And then some action was taken to include the international press--again, with no planting of the question, just selective promotion of the questioner.

What's the problem here? This is a nice editorial that riles up those who are itching to be riled up, but there's no meat on them bones.
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Old 06-24-2009, 06:01 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: Chicago
How is this an example of the press not being free? The President found out the reporter had some interesting correspondence from an Iranian and wanted to make sure it got time.

I guess I just don't get it. I think I'll ask my reporter buddy. If he has anything interesting to say, I'll post it.
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - B. Franklin
"There ought to be limits to freedom." - George W. Bush
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Old 06-24-2009, 06:06 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Location: essex ma
the staged press conference--complete with pre-submitted questions--was instituted systematically under reagan, but didn't constitute exactly a break with what already was in place. more an extension of it, taking it to another level. the gipper, for all this "Great Communicator" horseshit you read in hagiographies, wasn't real great extemporizing...

there are problems with this sort of practice, but they don't surface so much as such until the media environment, driven by budget decisions and the pressure for footage that 24/7 infotainment bring, start relying on prepackaged situations/information because it saves production time and money. this because any state apparatus (it seems) will stage itself as Powerful and its actions as Coherent and so Justified no matter the media context---so long as there's some reasonable expectation (on a infotainment consumer level i guess) that the press is independently checking information, operating in a critical manner etc and is not simply a relay system for this Packaged Stuff, then you can say the environment is more or less democratic---but once that critical dimension starts to fade away, the line between relay system for ideology and free press starts to erase itself.

personally, i think we're well into an ideological relay system that talks about itself as if it were a free press (in the sense of providing the kinds of information required for coherent judgments on the part of a democratic polity)--particularly on television.

but i think it was far more problematically the case under the bush administration, particularly during the marketing of the war in iraq...which seems the low point of the "war on terror" in retrospect.

but it's good to remind yourself that this is the case---that information comes prepackaged, particularly from state sources---all the more if you find yourself in general political agreement with the administration in power. part of the reason it seemed so apparent to me anyway during the bush period was a function of the fact that i saw them as repellent. the apparatus did not go away once obama came to power---it just tends to disappear as such a little beneath the basic agreement with this or that argument/action.
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spinning dog. such faithfulness it hear

it make you sick.

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Old 06-24-2009, 07:27 AM   #6 (permalink)
Reese's Avatar
umm.. Tilted Politics that way please.------->

I don't see what's the big deal. Do you really think there is a relevant question out there that the president hasn't been prepared for? There was a unique situation where the Huffington post had asked Iranians for questions to ask the president.

If you don't actually know what the question was, because this article didn't say, here's the quote.

Q: Yes, I did, I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian. We solicited questions last night from people who are still courageous enough to be communicating online, and one of them wanted to ask you this: Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working towards?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, we didn't have international observers on the ground. We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country. What we know is that a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It's not an isolated instance -- a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.
And so ultimately the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that's why I've been very clear: Ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.

What we can do is to say unequivocally that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence, about dealing with peaceful dissent, that spans cultures, spans borders. And what we've been seeing over the Internet and what we've been seeing in news reports violates those norms and violates those principles.

I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.
Now, to me that really doesn't sound like a prepared answer. Hell, much like every other answer he gave. He got a question on a subject and instead of answering the question, he just talked at length on the subject which is what happens at every fucking press conference.
“It is better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick” - Dave Barry
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Old 06-24-2009, 02:16 PM   #7 (permalink)
immoral minority
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Location: Back in Ohio
He did take a question from Fox News on Iran as well.

And how else is someone from Iran protesting the election going to be heard by the President of the US? He can't call them directly, but if a reporter asks an Iranian protester what would they ask the President, and then the reporter asks that, it is ok. While it may not be perfect and staged a little, it was meant to give hope to the Iranian protesters who were watching. (And annoy the current Iranian administration)

At least he has press conferences...
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