The irrelevant in the room

As noted here previously, the POTUS is not on my list of favorite people right now. I will say this, though: in yesterday’s press briefing kerfuffle, I’m coming down on the side of Team Obama.

So go ahead and call me obtuse and disrespectful of protocol, willing to look the other way and ignore an obvious conspiracy to collude. Oh, and also? Give me a fuckin’ break, Politico. And please, Dana Milbank? Upstanding bipartisan bastion of freedom of the press now, are we? Outraged a Democratic president would “pack” the press room with a “planted” questioner? Have some smelling salts, dearie, the swooning chaise is over there.

Speaking of conspiracies, anyone else recall Milbank’ssnide mocking of John Conyers and the Democrats who first dared toattempt an inquiry process about Bush-Cheney dragging the US into the Iraq war? Not content to cast the Democrats as conspiracy theorists “playing house” in “the land of make-believe,” what Milbank really seemed to relish was pointing out the impotence of the effort. Whether all that silly Iraq stuff was true or not was beside the point, but weren’t Conyers “and his hearty band of playmates” ridiculous meeting down in thebasement, acting like they mattered and all?

Back to the present: I know they aren’t foreign correspondents but while Calderone (Politico) and Milbank, et al, sniped and whined about planted questions and bloggers getting called on between, and not after, the wire services, Nico Pitney wentback to work like he has been for the past couple of weeks. And yeah, he’s just a blogger, he’s just aggregating and linking and passing along bits of information. But that’s pretty much all that’s out there right now and no small amount of what the American public knows about the situation in Iran came straight through Pitney, theNYTimes Lede blog, and handful of others. No, it’s not analysis from vetted sources, no it’s not news reporting, but it’s vital (as well asviral). It’s relevant and in the context of this extraordinary moment, Politico and Milbank’s concerns and spin come off as anything but.

Obama’s team isn’t perfect but they aren’t stupid either. They made an instinctively cogent connection with the heart of the Iran protest, and turned it to their advantage by letting the POTUS get in front of Republican potshots about his response to it. Does anyone, from Joe Normal in front of his TV to the denizens of The Village in DC, really harbor any illusion that presidential press briefings are completely off-the-cuff opportunities for journalists to practice their finely honed skills? As anyone who followsMark Knoller, Ana Marie Cox, Chris Cilizza, Jake Tapper, or the other “journo-twits” over on the Twitter machine can see, it’s more like feeding time at the zoo, and if the POTUS is at the podium, there is usually some advanced arrangements between the WH press office and those in the media who might be called on, especially those outside the standard pool. Was there more stagecraft than usual involved yesterday?Sounds to me like there was. Was it worth it? I’d say the White House scored points on substance, and in a style appropriate for the current connection between the people on the streets of Tehran and Americans who’ve grown to feel involved. Iran and America have a bigger story, on a bigger scale, ahead of them, but right now, it’s a different kind of narrative.

3 thoughts on “The irrelevant in the room

  1. It’s not just because HuffPo “got to play” – it’s because the question asked was more cogent and more pointed than one usually hears in a presidential press conference. That snotty little Milbank wouldn’t even tell his readers what the question was points out how embarrased he is for himself and his colleagues.
    Typical WH press corps(e) preparation for the occasion these days seems to consist of listening to Republicans and critics for a few days, so they can stand up and ask the President, “How do you respond to ‘some’ who say X about your policy Y?” They dutifully note down the response, write what both sides had to say, file their story before cocktail hour, and go out to congratulate themselves on a hard day’s work. (Don’t even get me started on the fatuous sort of “Just how awesome are you, Mr. President?” questions asked of the previous officeholder…)
    I know I’m preaching to the choir – or choirmaster, in Athenae’s case – but the general laziness just pisses me off so much I hardly bother looking at news programs or online newspapers anymore, unless somebody at one of the 15 or 20 blogs I read points me to something noteworthy. It would be nice if this administration (or, even better, the WH Correspondents Association) would institute a rule that anybody asking a variation of “How do you respond to critics?” question 3 pressers in a row gets a 6-month “time out” from the briefing room. If the fat arses taking up space in there can’t be bothered to do the work we need, turf them out and let somebody a little hungrier have a crack at it.

  2. The question itself wasn’t even all that great since we don’t have diplo relations with Iran, what POTUS does if/when Ahmedinejad is named President is kind of moot. But the fact that it came from an IRanian via Pitney, who held his own, was a good jumping off point. And certainly of more interest than the President’s smoking habit…
    I’m not sure I agree with “time outs.” Even crappy press shouldn’t be denied access. But I do think the whole ritual of the press briefing is just that, a ritual. AM Cox caught a lot of shit for suggesting doing away with it or at least overhauling it a while back. I would agree that it’s silly that “top” name reporters whose talents could be better used line up every day to be spoonfed.

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