Think Barack Obama's Monday-night press conference was about economic policy or endless Mideast war or whatever? Fool. It was the latest round in the White House press corps' endless dick-measuring contest.
These Obama Q&As are mainly about the press, right? Because it's easy to get that impression listening to everyone worry about which reporters got called on by the president, which didn't, who sat where, who was in the room, who looked smart, who looked dumb, etc.
There was "LOTS of grumbling post-press conference about HuffPo getting a question," Air America's Ana Marie Cox wrote, and that self-consciousness spilled out into the coverage. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews swiftly declared that "our breed, ...the press, looked very good tonight. They asked great questions."
The New York Times noted that the Huffington Post was "almost certainly" the first Web publication called on by a president, while the newsweeklies, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune were passed over. Politico asked if another relative outsider, liberal radio host Ed Schultz, maybe stole his front-row seat next to Helen Thomas. Um, no, he didn't, and fellow radio liberal Cox didn't steal her second-row perch either.
We'd have a "w00t w00t" for new media right now if this kind of preening and posturing isn't precisely why America came to despise so much of the old media and thus is happily watching it burn.
Anyway, since we're not counting on having any mourners at our funeral, here are some of the questions we thought were interesting, out of the 13 total the president was asked (by AP, Reuters, CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, ABC, CNN, New York Times, Fox, Washington Post and Hearst).
Sam Stein, Huffington Post
It was impressive merely that Stein was called on, even more so that this sent newspaper and TV hacks into fits of jealousy. Stein was said likely the first Web writer called on by a president; in any case, everyone was talking him as soon as the presser ended. He's 26; does this make him cool enough to roll with hottie 27-year-old Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau?
Anyway, Obama avoided answering Stein's question about whether former President George W. Bush should be investigated for criminal activity. But he respected the question enough to riff on the topic for a while.
(Points to Stein, btw, for those tailored blue wool pajamas with the dangly thing around the neck. That's some snappy-looking blogger wear.)
Major Garrett, Fox News
Leave it to the foaming-at-the-mouth conservatives at Fox to actually take our elected vice president seriously, thus embarrassing Obama in front of all the East Coast media elites. So biased! Approximate transcript:
"Uh, Mr. President, Joe Biden said something yesterday about how you two will eventually destroy the world, forever. Care to comment?"
"Oh, that's just the vice president. We all know he's mentally unbalanced, right guys? Ha ha ha ha. But seriously: He's nuts, please keep him away from sharp objects."
Chuck Todd, NBC News
It looks like recently-promoted Chuck Todd may need to go back to his magical numbers desk at MSNBC. Actual question: "You talked about that if your plan works the way you want it to work, it's going to increase consumer spending. But isn't consumer spending, or over-spending, how we got into this mess?"
Uh, no, people taking money out of their homes or piling on credit card debt was not half as much of a problem as the insane leveraging and re- and re-re- and re-re-re-securitization that banks partook in. And consumers and businesses alike have cut spending so deeply their essential durable goods are starting to fall apart faster than they are being replaced. But thanks for asking!
(Actually, though Todd's question was immediately called inaccurate by the president, it did elicit from him the great quote that "the party is now over... If all we're doing is spending and we're not making things, then over time, other countries are going to get tired of lending us money.")
Ed Henry, CNN
Props for jamming in two questions where other reporters limited themselves to just one. This will get old fast when everyone else tries the same stunt. But Henry was the only reporter to ask about the two ongoing wars in the Middle East rather than Congressional politics or the economy. (Except maybe for Helen Thomas, but she was really asking about nuclear proliferation, and happened to mention Afghanistan as part of that.)