AN EXCESSIVE PLAY BY PLAY…. There are plenty of circumstances in which a professional journalist is justified in not only reporting on a story, but exploring the work that went into the story. Woodward and Bernstein, for example, not only broke Watergate, but went on to write at length about their legwork behind the scenes. Many war correspondents will do the same thing — report on the conflict, and then later reflect on the process of reporting.
But asking a question at a White House press conference probably doesn’t meet the same standard.
CNN’s Ed Henry was one of several reporters to ask President Obama on Tuesday night about the deficit. In a follow up, he pressed Obama for an explanation as to why he didn’t immediately express outrage about the AIG bonuses when the story broke two weeks ago. “Well,” the president said, “it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
Yesterday, Henry followed up on this with a 659-word essay, not about AIG or the story itself, but about what he was thinking on Tuesday night. We learn that he intended to ask something else, and he had “several provocative questions” on hand.
[O]n Tuesday night, as I sat in the front row nervously reviewing my hypothetical questions written out in longhand (decidedly old school), I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with Wolf Blitzer Saturday night at the Gridiron dinner.
He said that when he was CNN’s Senior White House correspondent, he liked following up on a question the president had ducked earlier in the newser.
When you press a second time, you may be surprised with the second answer. And then rather than call on me 10th, the president called on me at about sixth. […]
The pressure was on now because the president had called on me. Someone handed me a microphone, millions were watching, and it’s scary to think about changing topic in a split second because you might get flustered and screw up.
But it’s fun to gamble and like any good quarterback (though I was never athletic enough to actually play the position), I decided to call an audible.
Henry went on to talk about having gone “hard on the AIG question,” having “waited patiently,” and his decision “to pounce with a sharp follow-up.” The CNN correspondent took pride in making the president “perturbed.”
Now, I suppose if you’re a student of journalism, this kind of essay may be of some use. It’s like listening to a director’s commentary on a DVD — we now know what this journalist is thinking when prepping for a White House press conference. If one is preparing a career as a member of the White House press corps, perhaps a play-by-play could be helpful.
But like Steve M., I found it kind of self-indulgent to see Ed Henry characterize himself as the hero of his own story. He’s the one who didn’t buckle under pressure. He’s the one who acted like the quick-thinking quarterback. He’s the one who cleverly asked a question — two, actually — the president didn’t want to hear.
Note to the White House press corps: you guys really aren’t the story.