So, earlier today, President Barack Obama made a Rose Garden appearance with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, during which time he took a question from the reporter from Univision. Naturally, the rest of the White House Press Corps is outraged, because they wanted to ask him about Arlen Specter. That is literally what's going on here, per Peter Baker of the New York Times:
At a ceremony to sign a bill promoting press freedom around the world on Monday, President Obama refused to take questions from reporters. "I'm not doing a press conference today," he told Chip Reid of CBS News, "but we'll be seeing you guys during the course of the week."
So when the president hosted a "news conference" in the Rose Garden with the president of Mexico on Wednesday, Mr. Reid thought maybe this time Mr. Obama would take questions. Instead, Mr. Obama allowed only a single question from the American news media, calling on a reporter from Univision, making it unlikely that he would be asked about Tuesday's anti-incumbent election results.
Sure enough, Mr. Obama was asked about the Arizona law aimed at stopping illegal immigrants, a law he had already denounced in his opening remarks and was happy to denounce again in response to the question. He did not have to offer his thoughts on the loss of an ally, Senator Arlen Specter, in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary, or on any other topic.
Lordy. Okay, in the first place, color me pro-Obama taking more questions from the Press Corps. Even the inane, half-assed, political process questions. God knows that anytime a White House reporter doesn't get to disgorge the narrative they've swallowed in advance, it could get lodged in the abdomen and cause colo-rectal tumors, and no one wants to see that. I'll take a vaguely dumb, confrontational question over one that launches a new inside-the-Obama-White-House novella any day of the week.
But let's remember, shall we, that the other attendee was Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico, so it's hardly beyond the pale for Univision to be called upon in that instance. In fact, one might observe that it was an entirely fitting decision.
But, everyone apparently really wanted to ask about Arlen Specter and what it meant for Obama's political operation. The aforementioned Chip Reid puts it like this:
But today he said there was time for only one from each side. And in what I suspect was a White House effort to assure that the questioning was limited to immigration and other issues of U.S.-Mexico concern, he called on the Univision reporter from the U.S. side.
So if his goal was to avoid answering any tough questions about yesterday's elections, or the oil spill in the Gulf, or financial regulation, or Iran, or Afghanistan -- he succeeded.
Chip Reid somehow manages to almost sleuth out Obama's whole "call on the reporter from Univision while the President of Mexico is standing right here" gambit, so good for him, there's hope for him yet. Let's note, however, the way in which Chip Reid orders his Universe of Tough Questions. He begins with the least tough topic, "yesterday's elections." And then we get oil spills, FinReg, Iran, and -- the afterthought -- that whole war thingy, in Afghanistan? Chip Reid maybe heard that as of yesterday, a thousand U.S. soldiers had died there, or something?
Not making the list: the nation's massive unemployment crisis! (But then, these reporters are all "employed," so that really doesn't affect them.)
It's also pretty hilarious to read the backhanded way Peter Baker slags the reporter from Univision. Let's see: Obama "denounced" the Arizona immigration law in his "opening remarks," and then called on the reporter from Univision, who asked him about the topic anyway, and the President repeated himself. And so, the reporter from Univision can report back to her bosses that she asked about the immigration law, and maybe there'll be footage of this on the teevee tonight, asking the question, AND GUESS WHAT: THIS IS WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS DOES! EVERYDAY! They hear answers to questions and then re-ask them ad nauseam and play the role of Brave Reporter for their bosses and the cameras. Peter Baker is basically taking Univision's White House reporter to task for behaving like a White House reporter.
Obviously, it would have been pretty GAME CHANGEY if the Univision reporter had asked Obama about Arlen Specter! Then, Obama would have had to turn to Calderon and explain: "Oye, Felipe, este tal de Arlen Specter es un demonio horrible, que no le importa para nada la politica Americana, y probablemente sera el responsable por mi muerte!"
But instead, the Univision reporter actually asked a question related to a policy that impacted the lives of actual Americans, so a moment for what I'm sure would have been pure toughness, and not at all "a process question Obama's been planning for weeks to blow off with a pat answer," was totally lost.