ENTIRELY RIGHT, EXCEPT FOR ALL OF THE RELEVANT DETAILS…. I don’t mean to belabor the point, but the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank ran some criticism today of Nico Pitney’s press conference question that deserves some follow-up.
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.
Milbank generally described the general circumstances correctly — the White House told Pitney he was likely to be called on, because he could ask a question submitted by an Iranian — but Milbank’s analysis was wildly unfair.
The Post reporter/columnist/humorist described the question from Pitney as “arranged,” “prepackaged,” “preplanned,” and “planted.” Milbank added that Pitney’s question sent “a message” that the “American press isn’t as free as advertised.”
For all the reasons we talked about yesterday, Milbank’s diatribe is just wrong. Indeed, we know it’s wrong in part because of the reporting done by one of Milbank’s colleagues at the Washington Post Company.
But I have a more general question: if the White House were “preplanning” a “planted” question with a sympathetic journalist — it wasn’t, but I’m speaking hypothetically here — wouldn’t the president’s team make it an easy one? Wouldn’t Obama want a softball he could just hit out of the park? Indeed, when the Bush White House invited a former male prostitute to ask questions, he was called on specifically because he’d help the Bush gang out.
In Nico’s case, the question was really good. So good, in fact, that President Obama largely dodged it.
Milbank’s criticism isn’t just mistaken; it doesn’t even make sense.