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Tilting at Windmills

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February 10, 2009

THE SAM STEIN BREAKTHROUGH.... During last night's White House press conference, the president fielded 13 questions. The first two went to wire services (AP and Reuters). Then came the networks (CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, ABC, CNN and Fox News), and print (New York Times, Washington Post, and Hearst). NPR got the last question, but between Helen Thomas and Mara Liasson, Obama raised a few eyebrows when he said, "Sam Stein, Huffington Post."

It was something of a breakthrough. Stein, after all, is a reporter for an online news outlet.

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported, "Obama made a bit of history by calling on the first blogger at such a session, Sam Stein of the liberal Huffington Post." I don't think that's entirely right. In January 2005, then-President Bush called on right-wing blogger Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, who asked for the president's thoughts on Democrats who are "divorced from reality." In this sense, Stein isn't the first blogger to be called on at a White House press conference; he's the first credible and legitimate blogger to be called on at a White House press conference.

Indeed, the differences are important. When the conservative Gannon/Guckert got to ask the president a question, he threw a rather pathetic softball, intended to help the president look good. When the Huffington Post's Stein stood up last night, he asked an excellent question that the president didn't want to answer, on an issue most news outlets prefer to ignore:

"Today, Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that before you turn the page, you have to read the page first. Do you agree with such a proposal? And are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?"

Whereas the Washington Post's reporter asked, "What's your reaction to Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?" Stein's question was one of the tougher inquiries Obama faced. At least as interesting as the "historic" nature of the exchange is why Stein asked a better question than most of his colleagues.

What's more, Greg Sargent raises a very good point about the sea-change in the media dynamic.

[T]he real innovation isn't in what Obama did. It's in what outlets like HuffPo are doing. Places like HuffPo and my alma mater, Talking Points Memo, are striving to demonstrate that it needn't necessarily be mutually exclusive to care along with your audience what happens in politics -- to have a predisposition towards one outcome or another -- while simultaneously doing real journalism. [...]

Stein writes for an outlet whose predispositions are well known, but he produces fair, even-handed, thoroughly reported pieces. In other words, he's a legit reporter. And so ultimately it's perfectly natural that Obama took his question.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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...he's the first credible and legitimate blogger to be called on at a White House press conference.

And, I'm like 86% certain, Sam Stein is not a whore.

Posted by: doubtful on February 10, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

I don't believe Gannon/Guckart was a blogger at the time. It was only after he became known as a gay hooker that he went to blogging.

I'm pretty sure.

Posted by: jharp on February 10, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Over at Politico, Michael Calderone has himself twisted like a pretzel over the fact that Ed Schultz had a seat in the front row beside Helen Thomas.

Posted by: Realist on February 10, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

At least as interesting as the "historic" nature of the exchange is why Stein asked a better question than most of his colleagues.

Bingo. He also didn't throw in one of those absurd premises like "and what does this say to people who think you're not bipartisan enough?"

Posted by: Danp on February 10, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

History. The new President took the first question from a reporter working for a credible newssite, and... dodged it.

Posted by: ericfree on February 10, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Although I didn't think that "right here and now" part was necessary, or helpful. I got the impression that if Stein didn't make it so confrontational, Obama might have given a better answer.

Posted by: drew42 on February 10, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

The least Stein could have done was take his pajamas off and wash the Cheeto dust off his hands...

Posted by: citizen_pain on February 10, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

To be sure, a question about "when we gonna stick it to the goddamn Bushies?" is loaded -- one might even say biased. The question comes from a definite point of view. However, it has the virtue of not sounding like a question the administration is asking itself, as if Obama is thinking out loud.

Posted by: Grumpy on February 10, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

'wash the Cheeto dust off his hands...'

That's not Cheeto dust, that's yellowcake!

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 10, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

I'm thinking of starting some new take on the practice of Kremlinology...

I'll call it Presscorpsology, where we can determine the importance of the media outlet to the White House by its proximity to the speaker's podium and whether or not the outlet's representative is called to ask a question.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 10, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "NPR got the last question, but between Helen Thomas and Mara Liasson ..."


Fox News analyst Mara Liasson got the last question. Liasson is nothing but another Fox News propagandist, who moonlights on NPR -- where her employment with Fox News is NEVER, EVER mentioned to NPR's listeners.

Along with fellow Fox News propagandist, Juan Williams, Liasson's job on corporate-funded NPR is to regurgitate scripted, partisan Republican, right-wing talking points in polite tones suitable for the delicate ears of of NPR's "liberal" audience.

Her question to Obama was a case in point -- it was entirely devoted to framing his efforts so far as a failure because Republicans are not supporting his proposals.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 10, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, take that James Caldwell of the Oregonian - Mr Caldwell is the center right Editor of the Op-Ed page - A few years back, he dropped Arrianna's column because he said she was an advocate. Dust up about her involvement in hybrid cars. With more papers, either folding, or on the brink, sites, such as HuffPo, are going to be the cutting edge of journalism.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 10, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist has it right on both Mara Liasson and Juan Williams. Interestingly, when they appear places like CSPAN they are always identified as being from NPR, not from Faux.

Posted by: howie on February 10, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

when they appear places like CSPAN they are always identified as being from NPR, not from Faux

...and for exactly the same reason as Jeff Gannon was identified as "Talon News" and not "whore."

Posted by: calling all toasters on February 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

I have, for a very long time, not agreed with traditional media reporters who fetishize "objectivity." Putting together a truly objective, straight-down-the-middle report that treats all sides fairly is indeed a do-able task. It can be done, but let's please not pretend that traditional media folks manage to do it on a regular basis.
I much prefer it when reporters admit upfront "I'm a liberal." That means I can view their reports through that prism and can judge their reports accordingly. I also think that puts a bit of pressure on the reporter. "Everybody thinks I'm gonna cheer for 'my side,' so when 'my' guys mess up, I feel obliged to admit it."
It really "gets up my nose" when I see traditional media reporters like Campbell Brown flashing around a show title like "No bias, no bull." I'm like pu-u-uleeeeze!!!! C'mon Campbell, you're a Villager!!! You're as biased as any other reporter out there, you just refuse to admit it!

Posted by: Rich2506 on February 10, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure Bush called on a reporter from Politico shortly after it went live. Bush even asked him what Politico was.

Posted by: g on February 10, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

That was a good question, and he didn't rule out prosecutions.

But I liked the fact that he ignored follow-up questions, although I only heard attempts by Fox's Major and Helen Thomas. Given that Thomas was on camera and with mike, it was an interesting moment.

I really like the way he manages these things, for one, it doesn't appear that he leaves himself any room to find a safe exit. And two, since he names the reporter's affiliation, he demonstrates that he spreading the wealth.

Posted by: tomj on February 10, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Stein wasn't the only one who didn't get an answer.

Helen Thomas asked Obama if there was any country in the middle east that he knew had nuclear weapons. He chose to talk about Pakistan. The last time I checked, Pakistan was in South Asia, not the Middle East.

And so the President of the United States continues to support the Jewish Nazis currently running Israel.

Posted by: TCinLA on February 10, 2009 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad he called on Stein. I just wish Stein weren't such a piss-poor writer. Arianna needs to get out of her two Priuses (Pria?) and hire some copyediting help over there. It's so bad it's distracting.

Posted by: shortstop on February 10, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Michael Calderone - someone in the White House sees "The Politico" for the right wing disinformation project they are.

Posted by: TCinLA on February 10, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Getting a sitting president to commit one way or another on potential prosecutions prior to an investigation is never, ever going to happen.

Sure Sam's question was relevant, on a lot of our minds, and much better than Chuck Todd's question blaming the financial collapse on regular people, but I'm not sure if expectations for a black and white, yes or no answer are realistic.

As a rule, I don't think any President should promise or rule out future prosecutions.

Posted by: doubtful on February 10, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Who knew that credibility and legitimacy were attributes one looked for in a blogger?

Posted by: anandine on February 10, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't it great to see Helen Thomas get called on, at all, for a question? She had so frightened the previous President, what-was-his-name, that he ignored her raised hand for eight years.

Posted by: andrew on February 10, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Funny that "credible and legitimate" here can arguably be reduced to "not a male prostitute."

Ah, the Bush Administration. For all their railing against the soft bigotry of low expectations, it's exactly what they've bequeathed to their successors.

Not to cast any aspersions on Sam, who I'm sure does a bang-up job (ha!) as a reporter. And who asked a VERY good question. I just find it endlessly hilarious that all you had to do to be a more legitimate media voice than the Bush Administration's go-to blogger was to not be a hooker.

Posted by: anonymiss on February 10, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Not being a hooker helps. So does not working for a fake online newspaper that shares officespace, personnel and finances with GOPUSA.com.

I agree with jharp at 9:59 am that while Talon News wasn't a real newspaper, it also wasn't a blog.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 10, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I bet that Sam Stein doesn't get to have sleepovers at the Whitehouse.
So Jimmy/Jeff is still one up on him.

Posted by: Mr DeBakey on February 10, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK



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