Tuesday, March 24, 2009


In case you thought the Beltway press couldn't get any more masturbatory or self-regarding, check out this Politico story by Mike Allen, which breathlessly answers the question that's been on, well, absolutely nobody's lips: just how on earth do journalists manage to prepare those fabulous questions they ask at presidential press conferences?

CBS's Chip Reid jots the gist of his questions on a legal pad. CNN's Ed Henry writes them word for word on white paper torn from the notebook he's using, so there's no danger of cards dropping to the ground. Fox's Major Garrett has three word-for-word questions and three "concept questions" in reserve.

ABC's Jake Tapper comes with about a dozen questions, including ones he's gathered from colleagues, bosses, his blog and Twitter.

Like athletes limbering up for the big game, White House reporters have been going through elaborate preparatory rituals as they bone up for tonight's prime-time news conference with President Obama, the second formal "presser" of his presidency....

Yes, Allen actually wrote that: Like athletes limbering up for the big game. As Dana Carvey's Church Lady used to say, "We like ourselves, don't we?"

And boyoboyoboy, does all that exhausting preparation pay off. Here, Major Garrett of Fox News explains his special method of ensuring that we have a well-informed citizenry:

"The questions must fence off as much of the talking points as possible, essentially conceding them in the question to limit the president's ability to repeat them," Garrett said. "So I push him in an explanatory direction. He loves to explain things, and sometimes in the explaining he makes news.

At Obama's last news conference, six weeks ago, Garrett read the president a quote from Vice President Biden about an Oval Office meeting he had with the president, and then asked: "Can you tell the American people, sir, what you were talking about?"

Obama's answer was widely seen as a quip at Biden's expense, and aides said the president later felt badly about the way it was covered. "You know," the president said, "I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to. [Laughter.] Not surprisingly."

The Fox correspondent explained: "My Biden question fit this method. I read Biden's comment in full -- no dodging with 'I'm not familiar with that.' I then made it clear, so the audience knew, [that] Obama was in the room during the meeting Biden referenced, and asked him to explain to the country what the issue was."

Yeah, that was one of the all-time great contributions of a free press to the general welfare.

In a speech to a retreat of House Democrats, Biden had spoken of an earlier White House meeting:

He recalled a recent White House meeting with the president and senior aides in which they were discussing the many challenges the country faces.

"If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong," was his message at the meeting.

I know, I know: another ill-advised Biden remark. But here's the thing: whatever Biden meant, it didn't matter. He was engaging in pure speculation about the future. What the hell difference did it make what he meant?

Under those circumstances, you'd think Garrett wouldn't be bragging about the brilliance of the question. It didn't tell Americans anything it's useful for us to know. And Obama, understandably, sidestepped the question.

Ah, but in sidestepping it he embarrassed himself -- or, at least, his answer was made into an embarrassment by Fox News and others in the press and (especially) the Obama-bashing precincts of the blogosphere, all of whom shrieked in unison that Obama had "thrown Biden under the bus." (And maybe I'm just being a blinkered Obamaniac, but I think that was based on a misunderstanding -- I think what Obama was saying was "Not surprisingly, given the fact that I have actual problems to deal with, I don't recall the circumstances surrounding that remark.")

But hey, Garrett got a trivial gotcha! Isn't that the whole point of the exercise?

No comments: