The chance to ask a question during a prime-time presidential press conference is treasured real estate in the world of journalism. So when the President called on Steve Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday night, it was not an insignificant moment for either him or his paper.
And yet, as soon as the moment presented itself, it disappeared. Steven Thomma of McClatchy stood up as soon as Barack Obama said "Steve," not Koff. Within a matter of milliseconds the president's attention was on the wrong portion and journalist of the room.
The question, like those beforehand, centered on the health care debate. But half the audience was distracted. Koff and the group of reporters around him were asking what exactly happened.
When Obama, in the course of answering the question, mentioned that he'd been stopping in Cleveland the next day, bits of laughter erupted.
"I thought, this isn't right," Thomma recalled after the press conference was over. "I gave him a quizzical look and he gave me a quizzical look."
Luckily for him, the mistake was rectified. Koff stood up after Obama's answer was finished, explained politely that a mishap had just occurred, and asked his question - again about health care, though with a Cleveland-specific angle.
"Mistakes happen," he would say after the conference. "Had he not addressed my question then I would not have been happy."
Back in the press briefing room minutes later, Thomma was getting hazed both by his fellow reporters and the rest of the White House press corps. "I'm hard of hearing," he explained, sincerely. In no short order he had established a new policy for presidential news conference.
"The next time the president says Bill, I'm just gonna stand up," quipped radio host Bill Press.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more