From his stunning upset victory in the Iowa Caucuses at the start of the presidential primaries, throughout the election campaign, and in the first hundred days of his term in office, the media treated Barack Obama like a rock star and handled him with kid gloves. He acknowledged as much when he spoke at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner earlier this month. "Why bother hanging out with celebrities when I can spend time with the people who made me one?" he said with a broad smile, and then added, "I know where my bread is buttered."
But less than two weeks later, after a White House press conference with many of the same correspondents who had attended the dinner, Obama may have decided to go back to celebrities. The journalists, targeting his responses to the demonstrations in Iran, challenged the president sharply, and he responded in kind. The New York Times report of the event was titled, "At Air-Conditioned News Conference, Obama Feels the Heat." The Washington Post said it "wasn't so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama." A YouTube mash-up video called it "Obama's Testy Press Conference."
The transcript of the session tracked the testiness of the crossfire.
Major Garrett of Fox News fired the first shot, "In your opening remarks, sir, you were--you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged. What took you so long to say those words?"
Obama shot right back, "I don't think that's accurate." And then, frowning at Garrett, he scolded, "Track what I've been saying. Right after the election, I said that we had profound concerns about the nature of the election, but that it was not up to us to determine what the outcome was."
Chip Reid of CBS News who, as you read in my prior blog, posed a false assumption question in Obama's first press conference, came back at him again in this session, "Some republicans on Capitol Hill--John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example--have said that up to this point, your response on Iran has been timid and weak. Today, it sounded a lot stronger...Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?"
Here Obama did not return the fire. Instead, he broke into a smile and said, "What do you think?" His response brought a wave of laughter from the crowded room, but then he turned serious and said, "Look, the--I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues, and I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail. But only I'm the President of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests."
Chuck Todd of NBC News turned the heat back up, "Mr. President, I want to follow up on Iran," he snapped, punctuating his words with his right hand holding a pen, almost poking it at Obama. "You have avoided twice spelling out consequences. You've hinted that there would be, from the international community, if they continue to violate--you said violate these norms. You seem to hint that there are human rights violations taking place."
Todd's words, voice, body language, and undoubtedly his pen turned Obama "prickly," as the New York Times' Maureen Dowd reported. "I'm not hinting," Obama said sternly, glowering at Todd. "I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that's a problem."
Todd shot right back, "Then why won't you spell out the consequences that the Iranian..."
Obama cut him off. "Because I think, Chuck, that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out." His voice steely, Obama added, "I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not."
Todd would not give up, "But shouldn't--I mean, shouldn't the world and Iran..."
Obama cut him off again, "Chuck, I answered..."
Todd kept going, "... but shouldn't the Iranian regime know that there are consequences?"
Obama cut him off for a third time, "I answered the question, Chuck, which is that we don't yet know how this is going to play out."
After such heated exchanges, how are Obama's relations with his former idolaters going to play out? Is the honeymoon over?
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more