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It came from a blogger …

June 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Yesterday, President Barack Obama had a daytime press conference that is being viewed with outrage by many in the media world. That ‘outrage’ is manufactured and displaying ignorance.

Obama presaged the questioning with a statement that included much discussion of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act which is going to be up for a vote this Friday in the House. This is a massive bill, with significant implications. Was the media outrage because no journalist got around to asking a question to this significant piece of legislation? No. Energy and Environment evidently aren’t on the table either for the White House press corps or other journalists around the country.

No, instead, the “outrage” derives from what might be seen as some mishandling of President Obama’s turning to the second questioner, Nico Pitney of The Huffington Post. Obama turned to Nico with the following:

Obama said to Pitney, “Nico, I know that you, and all across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. … Do you have a question?”

From Faux News to the pages of The Washington Post the outrage skyrockets from people who, pointedly, ignored the fact that the Bush Administration planted a Republican gay prostitute operative posing a journalist in press conference after press conference. They are misrepresenting, repeatedly, something that just a little honest searching of the ‘google tubes’ would provide value.

Dana Milbank attacks the Obama team and Pitney as posturing some form of daytime soap opera in Stay Tuned for More of “The Obama Show”. Milbank misrepresents this entire situation as a coordinated situation, undermining the very concept of freedom of the press as per these lines:

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.”

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.

the prepackaged Huffington Post question

“Planted”?

“Prepackaged”?

Milbank is certainly implying (actually, I think, stating) to his readership that Pitney’s question had been provided to him by the White House. This is, quite bluntly, an incredibly serious accusation for one journalist to make about another. (Well, perhaps Milbank could be excused … maybe a “blogger”, even a salaried one who has greater circulation that The Washington Post, doesn’t count as a “journalist” for Milbank.) Time for Milbank to put up the evidence of this violation of journalistic ethics or shut up (that is, after writing a correction and apology).

When it comes to Pitney, perhaps Milbank (and other critics) should wake up and recognize something that becomes evident after just the tiniest of ‘google tube’ searching:

  1. Pitney is doing some of the best (quite possibly the best) English-language reporting on events in Iran.  This is, in no small part, to the importance that the internet is serving in terms of getting information from Iran and Pitney’s/HuffPost’s skills in new media.
  2. Pitney had openly declared on Huffington Post that if given a chance to ask a question, that he would seek to ask one from an Iranian.

Milbank could have put these facts into the story and mentioned that Pitney’s question was, easily, the most serious and challenging question Obama faced in that press conference. Instead, Milbank writes this about Pitney:

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. …. 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.

Milbank is certainly suggesting (stating, no?) that the White House choreographed the entire situation. That Pitney was simply a witting tool for Obama-team manipulation of the press.

Milbank also attacks the Obama team for arranging another ‘unusual’ questioner.

And, as it turned out, [Pitney] 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.

Perhaps, Dana, it could be worth mentioning that this question came on the same day that President Obama met with the Chilean President and a week before he is to meet with the Colombian President. That, of course, would have been hard for Dana to figure out as Vidal’s question began:

Mr. President, you’re meeting today with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. You’re meeting next week with Alvaro Uribe from Colombia.

Looking at the situation, if there is any journalistic malpractice at play, it is with the truthiness emanating from places like Faux News and Dana Milbank, not from serious questioning by journalists like Nico Pitney and Macarena Vidal.

Now, it is unusual for these pages not to focus on energy (and climate) issues. Sadly, the President’s nicotine habit and Faux News’ implying that Obama is bowing to John McCain on Iran policy topped questioning about ACES. The misrepresented and truthiness-laden outrage over the Obama press conference(s) helps foster the environment for misrepresentation of Obama policy across the board — including on energy and environment.

Sadly, the White House should consider having the Press Spokesman stand up and give a strong account as to why Nico Pitney and Macarena Vidal merited a question. From my perspective, these seem to be reasonably accurate statements as to why.

  • Nico Pitney is doing some of the best reporting on Iran that we see from the US press. He is clearly in significant contact with Iranians from across the globe and across Iran.  We read his reporting because we learn from it. We saw that he said that he would, if called on, ask a question posed by an Iranian.  Considering that the President already planned to seek to speak directly to Iranians, we thought Nico might represent our best chance to have a ’surrogate’ Iranian press question at the conference and recommended to the President that he call on Nico for that reason. We called Nico to let him know that we had seen his effort to get a question from an Iranian and that, because of that, the President might call on him during the press conference. As a reminder, we posted his statements about Iran in Farsi, the translation was already under way.  Nico merited a question for two reasons: he is doing some excellent reporting, that merits reading, on Iran; and because he reached out to get a question that would have meaning to Iranians.
  • The President of the United States deals with Americans and with the globe.  It is regular practice for the White House to seek to have foreign press questioners from countries and regions relevant to the President’s meetings and global events. We find it, simply, astounding that anyone sees reason to question the President calling on a Spanish-language reporter as he is in a midst of meeting with several Presidents from Spanish-speaking countries.
  • In neither case, let me emphasize, neither case did the White House, in general, or the President, in particular, have knowledge of the question that these journalists would pose nor did we seek to shape the nature of those questions. Anyone stating or implying otherwise is not just insulting the professionalism of this office and the President’s ethics, but the professionalism and ethics of these fine journalists.  To be honest, I would think it appropriate to see some apologies sent to Pitney and Vidal from journalists who have implied or stated that they were handled by the White House.

Tags: Washington Post · barack obama · journalism

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Milbank’s “Goracle” … // Jul 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    [...] Dana Milbank has stepped into –it in a different way recently. And, that reminded me that 29 January absurdity. So, time to go back and take a look. [...]

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