Friday, February 20th, 2009
Despite the conventional wisdom that tells us again
and again and again that everything has to be faster and abridged because we are an ADD nation raised on the quick cuts of Laugh-In and Sesame Street, Obama’s inaugural press conference proved otherwise. But press conferences were more crisp, the questions and answers more to the quick, in the old days. JFK’s conferences were rat-a-tat-tat. (Ring-a-ding-ding, in those Sinatra times.) In JFK’s first press conference he answered 37 questions in 40 minutes. Obama answered only 13 questions in about 60 minutes. Considering that one question was about A-Rod and one was by the dizzy Helen Thomas, there were just 11 give-and-takes in the hour.
In Kennedy’s press conference, calling on 37 reporters (out of a smaller pool than Obama’s) meant that he recognized a wide and reasonable range of journalists, coming from different directions. Obama only recognized a handful of pre-selected reporters. He didn’t even do it skillfully. The Wall Street Journal pointed out (Feb. 11), about half-way through the conference, Obama said, “Chuck Todd,” NBC’s White House correspondent. “Where’s Chuck?” Then, looking for Major Garrett of Fox: “Where’s Major?” Obama was clearly not interacting, he was pre-selecting.
The WSJ’s editorial noted, “the decision to preselect questioners is an odd one, especially for a White House famously pledged to openness. We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors. Mr. Obama can more than handle his own, so our guess is that this is an attempt to discipline reporters who aren’t White House favorites. Few accounts of Monday night’s event even mentioned the curious fact that the
White House had picked its speakers in advance. We hope that omission wasn’t out of fear of being left off the list the next time.”