Tales from the Trail

Question raised by Obama-Calderon presser: Was that it?

May 19, 2010

It was definitely not a press conference and it was barely a Q-and-A.

For a White House that is more agile than any predecessor in new media –Twitter, blogs, video — it seems to be getting a bit out of practice with the traditional question-answer format with real, live reporters.

President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon faced the media in the White House Rose Garden. USA-MEXICO/

They took a total of two questions, both were on border issues. Obama answered lengthily about his concerns with the current U.S. immigration system, the fight against drugs, and the positive coordination with Mexico. All ground covered by the administration many times. Not exactly headline-making.

What about Tuesday’s primaries since Obama is after all the top Democrat in the land and had earlier supported Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter who lost? What about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which is still spreading? What about the rioting in Thailand in which people have been killed?  There’s Germany banning naked short sales in its war on speculators, what about that and the financial state of European allies? What does the president think about the latest words from Iran on a draft U.N. resolution to expand sanctions?

Well we don’t know, because no one got a chance to ask.

The last time Obama held a full-scale, formal news conference at the White House was in July 2009.

Here are the numbers according to Martha Joynt Kumar, Towson State University professor who is an expert on White House communications, as reported by Steven Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers.  In 15 months, Obama took questions in formal news conferences or short sessions 83 times compared with George W. Bush’s 205 times over that period and Bill Clinton’s 367 times.

Obama gave many more interviews — 184 in his first 15 months, compared with 56 for Bush and 61 for Clinton. And of those interviews,  108 went to TV, 52 to newspapers and magazines, 11 to radio, 11 to mixed media and two to online organizations.

In recent months Obama has taken questions in more informal settings such as on Air Force One. He did a joint press availability with Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently and he took questions during a nuclear summit earlier this year.

On Wednesday,  even by the usual standard of two questions from U.S. press and two from foreign press, the joint media availability with Calderon was thin with only a total of two questions.

“When are you going to have a real press conference?” Chip Reid, CBS News White House correspondent, yelled out at the end of the Obama-Calderon appearance.

That about sums it up for the media…

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama and Calderon at a joint press availability)

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