Man, I miss all the good stuff!
At today’s White House Press Briefing, Chip Reid and Helen Thomas went at Robert Gibbs like he was a piñata. The subject was the President’s town hall meeting on healthcare today, and the manner in which the questions were selected. Reid starts the show, and Helen tags in about halfway through to deliver the scissor-kick: (h/t Hot Air)
It’s a matter of record that I admire Helen a great deal, and when I say that she (along with Reid) may have been overstating a few things (particularly with regard to “Pitney-gate”), that’s also what makes her such a great correspondent.
There’s no doubt that a significant amount of stagecraft went into the town hall meeting, and the dynamic duo obviously have a point, evidenced by Gibbs’ attempts to avoid it: (via email)
REID: At today’s town hall meeting, questions coming in on YouTube and Twitter and such — who decides what questions will be asked?
MR. GIBBS: I think a group over at New Media is shuffling through questions. I think if you go on — I did not do this today, but I think if you go on our Web site you’ll see some of those questions. And I think, Chip, at the end of the day, when you — I think the questions that will be read to the President — obviously he’ll take some questions from the audience there — I think will be a representative sample of the issues in this debate that we’re dealing with.
Reid and Thomas have an inescapably valid problem with the process. If you solicit questions from the public, you’re going to get every question in the world to choose from. Selecting from that batch yourself is little different than writing your own questions. Earlier public forums featured questions that were selected based on users’ votes.
This does not guarantee you’ll get the best questions, but it does give you something to point at when people ask you about transparency and responsiveness in government.
The idea that the White House controls the press is a little tougher for me to swallow (the Pitney thing, as I’ve said before, is a red herring). The job of Press Secretary has, for a long time, been to stay on message. The Obama administration didn’t invent that dynamic. It’s the job of the media to point out when staying on message morphs into evasion, or stonewalling.
In terms of transparency, the town hall meeting is nothing to brag about, but it ain’t exactly the Kremlin, either.