Tales from the Trail

“Happy Birthday to Us” for Obama and pressroom doyenne

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room on Tuesday to carry a plateful of six cupcakes topped by a birthday candle to Helen ThomasOBAMA/, the veteran journalist with whom he shares an August 4 birthday.

The president, who turned 48, led aides in singing a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” to Thomas, who turned 89, and then urged her to make a wish. “You’ve got to blow it out to make it come true,” Obama said. Thomas then blew out the candle.

Thomas, known as a tough questioner of authority while covering 10 U.S. presidents during half a century as a White House correspondent, did not say what she wished for.

Obama jokingly said, “Helen wished for world peace, no prejudice. She and I also had a common birthday wish. She said she hopes for a real healthcare reform bill,” plugging his political agenda. “I will leave it up to you how you want to distribute the cupcakes,” he added.  

The president posed for a smiling picture with Thomas, but left without taking questions.

Congressman blasts media over Michael Jackson coverage

It’s one thing for fans gathering in Los Angeles to go ga-ga over the late “King of Pop,” but the  extensive media coverage of  Michael Jackson and his death has one Washington insider screaming “ENOUGH ALREADY.”

Well, not exactly in those words. But Rep. Pete King expressed outrage at the coverage and blasted the media in a video posted on YouTube over the Independence Day holiday weekend by the congressman’s campaign staff.

King, a New York Republican, took issue with coverage he says glosses over the controversy in Jackson’s life.  And he filled in the blanks with some commentary of his own, among other things calling  Jackson “a pervert” and “a pedophile.”  On Monday, King explained that he was merely  expressing what he believes a lot of  people really feel.

White House takes heat over news conference question

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs took heat on Wednesday over the use of what one reporter called a “designated hitter” to ask President Barack Obama about protests in Iran.
“What kind of a message do you think that sends to the American people and to the world about the kind of free flow and pure questioning that’s been expected at presidential news conferences?” CBS OBAMA/White House correspondent Peter Maer asked.
Iran’s disputed election and the violent crackdown on the huge protests that followed dominated Obama’s fourth news conference on Tuesday.
But Maer and other reporters objected to Obama taking an arranged question from the Huffington Post website.
“What led to your decision to plant a designated hitter right here to ask the president a question,” Maer asked.
White House aides had arranged for Nico Pitney from the Huffington Post to attend the press conference and Obama called on him second, after answering an earlier question on Iran.
“I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?” Obama asked.
Pitney then relayed a question from an Iranian who wanted to know under what conditions Obama would accept the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed poll.
Obama dodged that but said “a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It’s not an isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.”
Gibbs defended the White House’s decision to invite Pitney to the press conference to ask a question. He insisted the White House had no idea “what the exact question would be.”
He called the exchange a “very powerful message” of press freedoms Iranians do not currently enjoy in their own county, rather than an example of contrived newsmaking.
The Huffington Post and other liberal outlets often accused former President George W. Bush of planting questioners in news conferences to ask softball questions.
Gibbs left open the possibility that Obama could use the same tactic again, saying the president thought it was important to try to take a question indirectly from someone in Iran.
“I won’t make any apologies for that,” Gibbs said.
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama, Gibbs (left) at June 23 news conference)

Obama in bed with the press?

President Barack Obama poked fun at his close relationship with the press on Friday and teased radio and TV correspondents their industry “was more relevant than ever,” despite more and more Americans turning elsewhere for news.

Obama said he had trouble coming up with fresh jokes after delivering a similar routine just five weeks ago at the annual White House correspondents dinner, a glitzy affair attracting big Hollywood stars.

“The jokes may not be as good, but neither is the guest list,” Obama said at the Radio and Television Correspondents  Associations Dinner. “For me, there’s no contest. Why bother hanging out with celebrities, when I can spend time with the people who made me one?”

Is honeymoon with Obama over already?

obama-boards-planeU.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s 12-day vacation in Hawaii exposed tensions with the media that presage a possible combative relationship between a Democratic Obama White House and mainstream U.S. news organizations, which were often accused by Republicans of being too soft on him during the election campaign.

In short, the media organizations are pushing for greater access. They were annoyed that he appeared in public places on several occasions during the holiday without his traveling media pool, which by long-standing agreement between successive White Houses and the major news organizations always shadows presidents and presidents-elect.

The Obama camp, in turn, appeared irritated by criticism by some media outlets that the president-elect had deliberately ditched the pool the day after Christmas, when he took his daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, to see a dolphin show. Aides said it was an honest mistake and blamed a breakdown in communication.

from FaithWorld:

When it’s better to lead with the economy than with the innuendo

President-elect Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview to the Chicago Tribune , offering his hometown daily a scoop that forced other journalists to choose which angle to highlight in their reports on it. Reuters chose to lead  with his comment that the most pressing problem right now was to "stabilize the patient" and save the U.S. economy from losing millions of jobs. I agree this is the key message he sent in this interview and deserved to take top billing. So I was surprised to see how many news organisations went with a different angle. (Photo: Obama in Chicago, 9 Dec 2008/Jeff Haynes)

"Obama to take the oath of office using his middle name" ... "At inauguration, it will be Barack Hussein Obama: interview" ... "I, Barack Hussein Obama" -- several news organisations led off with the fact that Obama would be sworn in under his full name. What did they expect? That he would kowtow to his campaign critics who pointedly called him Barack Hussein Obama but didn't have the courage to say what they were hinting at, i.e. that this self-confessed Christian was a "covert Muslim" or "Muslim apostate" and therefore unreliable?

Given the context of the campaign, the fact that Obama has not been cowed is interesting. We mentioned it in the third paragraph, the Chicago Tribune in the second. But let's ask if making this the lead, putting it at the top of the whole story, gives the whispering campaign against him much more importance than it is due?

Radio addresses to go high-tech in Obama presidency

CHICAGO- Call it the e-fireside chat.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama plans to continue his close links with the Internet by making the weekly radio address into a YouTube video that he will post on his Web site www.change.gov, aides said on Friday.

Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, will record this Saturday’s Democratic weekly radio address as his first video and audio address. He will continue the tradition during his presidency.

“No president-elect or president has ever turned the radio address into a multimedia opportunity before,” said transition spokesman Nick Shapiro.

President-elect Obama keeping low profile in Chicago

CHICAGO – Anybody seen President-elect Barack Obama lately?

The press pool covering him sure hasn’t.

As he delves deeply into planning his transition to the White House, Obama has been keeping a low-profile in Chicago, after his high-profile visit to the White House on Monday.

He was seen publicly on Tuesday when he laid a Veteran’s Day wreath with disabled Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth.

But that’s been about it. On Thursday morning, Obama dropped his two daughters off at their school in the morning. They hopped out of the vehicle, but Obama did not.

Nostalgic McCain bids adieu to his traveling press corps

ABOARD “STRAIGHT TALK AIR” – Republican John McCain, who basically cut off contact with his traveling press corps in the last two months of the presidential race, walked to the back of his campaign plane on Tuesday to say goodbye.

“We’ve had a great ride, we’ve had a great experience, and it’s full of memories that we will always treasure,” the Arizona senator told reporters, who crowded into the aisle and the front of the plane’s press section to hear.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together, some, we’ve been together for almost two years,” he said during a flight from New Mexico to Arizona. “I wish you all every success and look forward to being with you in the future.”

Press corps musical chairs on Obama plane

WASHINGTON – What a popular guy.  
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is so popular that some “tough decisions” had to be made about which members of the press corps would fly on his plane during the final days of the campaign.
Off the plane this weekend will be the Dallas Morning News, New York Post and Washington Times. Among those taking seats will be staffers from the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, according to a campaign official.
Flying with the candidate is crucial because it expedites getting to campaign events, eliminating the hassles of commercial travel, as well as provides access to the candidate or other officials on the plane.
“Unfortunately, demand for seats on the plane during this final weekend has far exceeded supply, and because of logistical issues we made the decision not to add a second plane,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. 
“This means we’ve had to make hard and unpleasant for all concerned decisions about limiting some news organizations and in some cases not being in a position to offer space to news organizations altogether,” she said.
A campaign official said adding a second plane would have cut a city a day from the schedule and that also larger news outlets were facing new limits on the number of seats on the plane, such as for columnists and extra correspondents.
Conservative outlet DrudgeReport highlighted the fact that all three newspapers losing their spots on the plane endorsed Republican rival John McCain for president.

The Dallas Morning News said it had no evidence of a connection to its endorsement, blogging its explanation here. The New York Post wrote its response here, suggesting it was not in the news business to be “liked”. The Washington Times said it was unhappy with the decision which it noted came two days after it endorsed McCain. A campaign official said the Times was told before it made its endorsement. 
Psaki said the campaign would still help correspondents not on the plane with hotel reservations, space on the buses and ensuring they receive the information that is given to the reporters on the plane.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

- Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (luggage and equipment belonging to the press corps is laid out for a security sweep)