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White House Reporters Must Know Whether America's Existence Remains Threatened By Obama's Smoking Habit

First Posted: 02/09/11 02:19 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:30 PM ET

Obama Smoking

Perhaps you didn't know this, because your finely-tuned ability to discern between news of actual importance and a steaming pile of sweaty obsession is still intact, but America is actually in Day Two of a major White House story: President Barack Obama may or may not have quit smoking. The importance of this news can, in fact, be understated, even ignored. But what if we all agreed to simply not do that?

"Has President Obama quit smoking?" That's how this piece in The Atlantic begins, ably driving home the question raised by its headline, "Has Obama quit smoking?" (See, they remind you, right off the bat, that Obama is the "President.")

First lady Michelle Obama told reporters on Tuesday that her husband has finally done it and hasn't inhaled for a year.

The story was first reported by the Associated Press, and it stirred the White House press corps to ask Robert Gibbs about it at his daily briefing.

Stirred? Did it ever! Let's all relive the frenzy of questioning that ensued when MSNBC's Savannah Guthrie came within sight of the sort of story that the White House press corps is uniquely able to cover, penetratingly:

Q We just had a wire cross that said the First Lady said the President has now quit smoking and hasn't smoked in almost a year. Just wonder if you know anything more about that.


MR. GIBBS: I think that goes along with what I said -- I don't remember when we last discussed this.

Q You were pretty vague about it --


Q You said nine months --


Q You said about nine months ago --


MR. GIBBS: No, I said we had --


Q You said nine months ago.


Q You hadn't seen -- yes, you hadn't seen --


MR. GIBBS: No, no, I said he hadn't smoked in nine months.

Q Do you know what helped him finally kick the habit?


MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that the First Lady -- (laughter.) No, no, I don't mean that in a funny way.

Q Has Marvin quit?

MR. GIBBS: Marvin has quit.

Q Have you started?

MR. GIBBS: I have -- (laughter.) I have not, and I --

Q So Marvin quit?

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me, let me -- Marvin doesn't smoke. Eugene Kang -- Eugene, I hope you're still not smoking because I just mentioned you. There are number of people that have decided not to --

Q Boehner? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: -- that have decided to make that -- I think -- look, I will say this --


Q Did they do it all together?


MR. GIBBS: They did around the same time. I will say this. I think -- and I didn't mean to be -- I didn't actually mean for what I said about the First Lady to be humorous as much as -- I think that when somebody decides to quit smoking, to try to overcome the physical addiction that they have, they do it not just because they want to, but because others want them to, and because others around them give them the type of encouragement that they need to break what is a tough habit to break.

Pulitzers for everyone, immediately!

Of course, whether or not Obama has actually quit smoking is something of a mystery. Who's to say he's not sneaking a coffin nail here and there? How do we know that there already isn't some secret "smoking knoll" on the White House grounds? And even though he is as skilled a stalker of the president as anyone, can we really count on White House photographer Pete Souza to disclose what he knows about the president's smoking habits? Probably not.

As The Atlantic helpfully points out, this is a matter of great importance to the horse race politics of this post-2010 election era:

Obama's seeming choice to quit smoking is in contrast to his chief Republican opponent, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who is also a smoker.

Have we finally stumbled upon a way to "contrast" Barack Obama and John Boehner? We are looking into this.

Not to get all Doris Kearns Goodwin on you, but the president's smoking habits are a matter of grave historical concern. See, way back when, President Ronald Reagan was a smoker. To help him cope with kicking the habit in his first term in office, he turned to jellybeans. And, as Ben Quayle pointed out, those jellybeans were the source of Reagan's optimistic power and wholesale representations of the "uniqueness and greatness of America."

So, who's to say what could have happened if Reagan had remained a smoker? (Probably Ben Quayle would have written about how the various chemicals and carcinogens contained in each cigarette were "different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony," as a cancerous paste on the lungs of America.)

[Hat tip: Pareene @ War Room]

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