Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dana Milbank: Dick Whisperer

Last week, when Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post was called on for a question at Obama's press conference. Obama said he heard Pitney was soliciting questions from people in Iran using the internets, and wanted him to relay one of those questions. Now if Pitney had lobbed him a softball rather than asking him probably the toughest question of the night, I would understand peoples' concern. But since he did ask a tough question, it seemed simply like a smart move by the president (to appear concerned with the plight of the Iranian protesters) while also a cool use of technology (soliciting questions from people who are very far away and choosing the best one).

But not according to Dana Milbank. When you write a fluff column for the Washington Post, you know serious journalism:

In his first daytime news conference yesterday, President Obama preempted "All My Children," "Days of Our Lives" and "The Young and the Restless." But the soap viewers shouldn't have been disappointed: The president had arranged some prepackaged entertainment for them.

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. "I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post," he announced.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet," Obama went on. "Do you have a question?"

Pitney recognized his prompt. "That's right," he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian."

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world -- Iran included -- that the American press isn't as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn't so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, "The Obama Show." Missed yesterday's show? Don't worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting "Good Morning America" from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), "World News Tonight" from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

. . .

But yesterday's daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner -- from the Huffington Post.

Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question's wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian.
Those crazy liberals, getting angry when Bush dressed up a male prostitute as a journalist and let him ask questions like this:
"Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines. And Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work – you've said you are going to reach out to these people – how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
Yep, that sounds like the right comparison for Pitney's staged softball:
"Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working for?"
Accusing the president of betraying the demonstrators in Iran? Clearly a set up. And with all the extensive reporting Milbank did on the LEGITIMATE Gannon controversy (Zero Columns), I'm glad he's chosen now to unleash his outrage.

Anyway, somehow his outrage lasted into the weekend when Pitney and Milbank faced off on Howard Kurtz's CNN show. There was a predictably heated exchange between the two, where once again, Milbank refused back up any of his claims that Obama's team asked Pitney for a softball. That part was predictable. What happened next, according Pitney himself, was not:
The only thing that surprised me was when Dana turned to me after our initial sparring and called me a "dick" in a whispered tone (the specific phrase was, I believe, "You're such a dick"). Howie Kurtz wrote on Twitter that he didn't hear it, which is understandable -- he was doing the lead-in for the next part of the segment on the ABC White House special. But it happened (I urge Howie to watch the video of the panel during the ABC intro) and it was frankly pretty odd.
And with that, it was born:

Dana Milbank: Dick Whisperer

1 comment:

  1. hahahah that's what the accusations of staged questions are from, a random question from iran? people are really reaching if they're trying to be outraged by that.