Last night, CNN's Campbell Brown criticized President-elect Barack Obama for glibly dismissing questions on the way his relationship with Senator Hillary Clinton shifted from critical to collaborative as the press "having fun" slicing and dicing old campaign rhetoric. Brown objected to Obama's comments, saying, "As annoying how you may have found it, it is a fair question."
She makes a good point! Sure, in covering the long, drawn out Clinton appointment to the State Department, the press has had some annoying tendencies. You don't have to venture too far to find a pundit who'll take it as an article of faith that Clinton's appointment is a disaster, and that she will be doing nothing but goin' rogue and undermining Obama's agenda every chance she gets. But yesterday's question from Peter Baker wasn't mean-spirited or off-base. It's reasonable to inquire into how Obama and Clinton got square with one another after a campaign that featured some sharp critiques of the New York Senator's foreign policy bona fides:
BAKER: You've talked about the importance just now of having different voices and robust debate within your administration. But, again, going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of the -- your now, your nominee for secretary of state. And you belittled her travels around the word, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders. And your new White House counsel said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring.
It's arguable that Obama gained his first significant foothold in the nomination fight by casting a sharp distinction between his view of the Iraq War and that of Clinton's. The primary debates frequently featured sparring over the two contenders' approaches to diplomacy. So it's really not out of bounds to ask about how their views of one another have evolved, or, indeed, if hot campaign rhetoric was nothing more than hot campaign rhetoric.
Obama will be making an appearance on Meet The Press this Sunday, and would probably do well to have a more substantive answer to this question at the ready.
BROWN: No one here needs to be reminded of how heated things got between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the campaign. She trashed him, saying he wasn't ready to be commander in chief. He trashed her, mocking her foreign policy experience as first lady. Well, now, of course, they have put all of that behind them, so that she can become his secretary of state. Naturally, given all that was said, this issue came up during an exchange with reporters today. This is worth listening to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You've talked about the importance just now of having different voices and robust debate within your administration. But, again, going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of the -- your now, your nominee for secretary of state. And you belittled her travels around the word, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders. And your new White House council said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring.
OBAMA: Well, I mean, I think -- this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign. No, I understand. And you're having fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: There we go again. The pesky media, all we want to do is have a little fun, stir things up for our own amusement.
I mean, really, how silly of that reporter to dare ask you, Mr. President-elect, how it is that you completely mocked Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience just a few months ago and yet today you think there is no one more qualified than she to lead your foreign policy team? It's a clever device, treating a question so dismissively in an attempt to delegitimize it, but it is a legitimate question. As annoying how you may have found it, it is a fair question.
It was only in March of this year that Greg Craig, your new White House counsel, put out a memo over four pages long outlining point by point Hillary Clinton's foreign policy claims, calling them all exaggerated, just words, not supported by her record.
Now, look, maybe you regret what you said about Hillary Clinton. Maybe it was, as you suggested today, all just said in the heat of the campaign. If that is the case, and you are both now rising above it, then you deserve to be commended for that. And you could have been explicit in saying all of that today. You could have explained the evolution of your thinking, instead of belittling a question you didn't like.
Mr. President-elect, reporters, we hope, are going to ask you a lot of annoying questions over the next four years. Get used to it. That is the job of the media, to hold you accountable.
But this isn't just about the media. It's about the American people, many of whom voted for you because of what you said during the campaign. And they have a right to know which of those things you meant and which you didn't. Apparently, as you made clear today, you didn't mean what you said about Hillary Clinton.
So, what else didn't you mean? The media is going to be asking. And you were wrong today. Annoying questions are about more than just the press having fun. Annoying questions are about the press doing its job and the people's right to know.