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Last Night's Press Conference: Obama Shuns Newspapers, Reporters Call "Audibles"

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 25 2009

If you dedicated an hour of your life last night to watching Obama's second presidential press conference, then you saw that the way the president ticked through the list of pre-selected reporters made it seem like he could have benefited from the help of a maître d'. "Is Lourdes here?," he asked at one point, one eye on his master press list. Univision's Lourdes Meluza was there, got in a question about violence in Mexico. Obama called on 13 different reporters, including those from specialized publications like Stars & Stripes and Ebony magazine, as well as from all four major TV networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and CNN). But, Politico's Michael Calderone notes, Obama didn't call on a single reporter from a major newspaper -- no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Wall Street Journal. (The Washington Times did get a question in, but their reach doesn't extend much beyond the Beltway.) Plum Line's Greg Sargent cautions against using last night's press conference to add weight to the idea that Obama is actively trying to route around some sort of traditional media filter. "The fracturing of information channels in the new media age and the weakening power of the big news orgs," he writes, "are driving this as much as anything."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos makes the case that the smaller outlets asked targeted questions -- on homelessness, on veterans affairs -- that wouldn't get asked by more general-interest publications.

Of course, Personal Democracy Forum has partnered up with Ask the President, an effort to add a structured framework to tapping the collective thinking of the American people during these sorts of press rituals. (As of this morning, 5,800 people have voted on 875 questions on ATP.) That's a practice that journalists at the White House last night also subscribe to. NBC's Chuck Todd and ABC's Jake Tapper, as the Nation's Ari Melber notes, have discussed a willingness to solicit citizen questions using tools like blogs and Twitter. But without a more structured way of doing it, there's still a good amount of journalistic gut involved. As Tapper tweeted just before the press conference began, ""thx 4 all the great q's...am bringing into briefing 32 pp of q's." With time for only one or perhaps two queries of the president, though, wrote Tapper, "will have to call an audible."