NEW YORK -- After President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to push concrete proposals on reducing gun violence next month, the White House press corps began asking questions -- about the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Each of the first three reporters who questioned the president asked about the fiscal fight in Washington rather than the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and subsequent calls for stricter gun control. In doing so, reporters seemed more interested in the latest Beltway squabble than the national conversation, leading to ample criticism on Twitter.
"Obama makes historic statement re guns - and first 3 questions after are about TAX? This is exactly why America's gun crisis will continue," tweeted CNN's Piers Morgan. Soon after, he tweeted: "White House press corps message to the world: 'We don't care about gun control'. Shameful."
"The White House press corps is a clown act," tweeted Don Van Natta, an ESPN senior writer and former New York Times reporter.
Journalists are, justifiably, not obligated to ask questions about what the president wants to address. But Wednesday's wasn't a normal press briefing in which reporters throw questions at Press Secretary Jay Carney for 40 minutes and few outside of Washington tune in. Obama, who rarely appears in the briefing room, was speaking about curbing gun violence, an issue of intense public interest this week and one sure to provoke further debate over the 2nd Amendment.
Carney told The Huffington Post after the briefing that the White House wasn't surprised by the questions Obama was asked.
"We expected to get a range of questions on Newtown, the fiscal cliff and Benghazi," he said. (A new report on the Benghazi attack was recently released, but it didn't come up in the course of Wednesday's briefing).
But other White House reporters clearly wanted to jump in as colleagues focused on the fiscal cliff. Following the third question, ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper interjected, "Sir, may I ask a question about Newtown, please?" (Tapper later asked Obama where he's been on the issue of gun control.)
So why did the first three reporters focus on the fiscal cliff?
AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, in an email to The Huffington Post, said it was "perfectly fine for AP White House correspondent Ben Feller to pose a question about the fiscal cliff." Feller had the first question Wednesdsay.
"The president had just spoken at length about gun control, but had not yet said a word about the other huge issue of the day affecting the nation, the fiscal cliff," Buzbee continued. "We ask questions intended to ensure that big news is covered. We do this all this time. We aim to cover the uncovered ground."
"I asked about the fiscal cliff because the country is less than two weeks away from a crucial deadline, negotiations are stalled, and there are a lot of unanswered questions about what the president plans to do to deal with more than $500 billion in scheduled spending cuts and tax increases," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, who had the third question, told The Huffington Post in an email.
"The president hasn't taken questions at a press conference in more than month, and we would have been remiss if we let that opportunity pass by," she continued.
The Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee, who had the second question, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.