Our political Quote of the Day comes from MSNBC’s First Read on the controversy over President Barack Obama calling on a prominent new media Huffington Post reporter to ask a question the White House wanted to be asked since it was a question from Iran:
Perhaps the most controversial moment at yesterday’s press conference occurred when Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post got the second question and asked the president a question he had received from an Iranian. Media reports accused that it was a planted question, and it does appear that the White House wanted Pitney to ask his question. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote, “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.” Politico originally said it was a “clearly coordinated” exchange. Pitney later said he was never promised a question, and Arianna Huffington responded that some in the media “can’t seem to understand why the president would have the nerve to call on someone whose Iran coverage has been praised throughout the media, from Charlie Rose to Andrew Sullivan to the Economist.” The ultimate irony to all this? The president didn’t really answer the question — specifically the part that asked him to lay out the conditions at which he’d accept Ahmadinejad’s election.
Milbank is correct that planted questions are considered no-nos and a sign that a White House is indulging in news management in what is traditionally a free-wheeling news gathering device. (And just because the White House allegedly made sure Jeff Gannon was there to ask some desired questions will not give Obama a license to move to doing the same thing.)
However, a case could be made that this specific question wasn’t a case of the White House giving a reporter the wording or asking for a politically loaded question to be asked to the President so he could hit a pre-scripted home run. It was a way to get in a question from someone in Iran. Milbank is correct on the general idea, but this specific question won’t be one heatedly debated in journalism or journalism ethics classes 10 years — or even 10 months from now..
In reality, some eyebrows could be (and are being) raised. But mixed in with that is a lingering degree of mainstream media and online media resentment over the fact that The Huffington Post suddenly seemingly came of age in terms of official recognition at a Presidential press conference and must be viewed as authentic competition.
So there is some concern and perhaps even muted outrage over the fact Obama had a question asked that he wanted asked — but the concern and varying degrees of outrage are fig leaves that also cover some other behind-the-fig leaf “issues” as well.
UPDATE: Once again, Fox News’ Sean Hannity shows that unless you are a pure partisan you should skip his show if you are trying to find what goes on since he goes beyond mere partisan spin.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.