Tales from the Trail

White House takes heat over news conference question

June 24, 2009

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.

The First Draft: Obama and Father’s Day

June 19, 2009

President Barack Obama will take time out on Friday from unrest in Iran and a suddenly endangered healthcare overhaul on Capitol Hill to focus on fathering.

The First Draft: Reviews flood in after Obama’s Cairo speech

June 4, 2009

OBAMA-EGYPT/He’s been preparing for this moment since long before he came to the White House, so President Barack Obama might wonder how his Cairo speech to the Muslim world went over. He wouldn’t have to wait long — within minutes after he ended his address, the reviews started flooding in.

Ben Stiller is in the (White) House

May 14, 2009

Actors Ben Stiller, his wife Christine Taylor and Ricky Gervais took advantage of President Barack Obama being out of town on Thursday to tour the White House. 

The First Draft: Presidential e-mail

May 14, 2009

SUNDANCE/If you just can’t get enough of the goings and doings of President Barack Obama, can’t wait for the blog posts, Twitter tweets, Washington whispers or even the newspaper and magazine stories about the U.S. chief executive, now there’s help. You can sign up for e-mails from the president. He sent his first one Wednesday. It’s hardly a window on the inner workings of the White House but it is a new way to communicate.

The First Draft: White House wooing comes in waves

May 13, 2009

OBAMA/It’s a busy day at the White House, with waves of lawmakers moving in for talks with President Barack Obama, in between a press statement and before a commencement address.

Obama holds first Rose Garden event

April 29, 2009

President Barack Obama held his first ceremonial event in the Rose Garden Tuesday, using the scenic lawn outside the Oval Office to honor some of the country’s finest teachers.
 
“This is our first official Rose Garden ceremony — a place where so many,” the president started before being interrupted by a smattering of applause. “Yes, that’s worth applause, sure, why not,” he added to laughter.
 
USA-OBAMA/“This is a place where so many presidents have honored so many citizens who’ve made extraordinary contributions to the life of our nation,” Obama said.
 
The Rose Garden was one of President George W. Bush’s favorite ceremonial venues. The day after November’s election, he spoke in the Rose Garden when he congratulated Obama and said his victory represented a “triumph of the American story” that made every American proud.
 
The people being honored Tuesday were educators who had been named national and state teachers of the year.
 
“Our teachers are the key to our nation’s success, to whether America will lead the world in the discoveries and innovations and economic prosperity of this new century,” Obama told the audience.
 
The president presented the national teacher of the year award to Tony Mullen, a former New York City police officer who worked his way up to the rank of captain while studying to become a teacher.
 
Mullen, who now teaches at the ARCH School in Greenwich, Connecticut, works with youths who have behavioral and emotional problems.
 
“I teach and mentor at-risk teenagers, because too many of the pages of their stories are filled with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, academic failure and despair,” Mullen told the crowd. 
 
“I teach these young adults because they are among the most complex population to educate, and therefore challenge my ability as an educator,” he said. “And I teach them because they provide me plenty of opportunity to help rewrite their stories, to help them compose a happy ending.”

First Draft: It’s Take-Your-Kids-To-The-White-House Day!

April 23, 2009

MASTERCARD/AMERICANEXPRESSJust as the cherry tree blossoms pass their peak and not long after the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, there’s another hallowed Washington spring tradition: Take Your Child To Work Day. That’s when Type A parents with Type A jobs bring their kids to the office to give them some idea of what Mom and Dad do for a living — and that includes people who work at the White House, the State Department and on Capitol Hill.

Is “shirtless cover” okay?

April 22, 2009

obamaparkWashingtonian is making the most of the buzz on its May issue with a shirtless President Obama on the cover.

First Draft: From No. 54,000 to No. 2 — after a handshake

April 20, 2009

SUMMIT-AMERICAS/The handshake that set Washington buzzing — that awkward grip-and-grin between President Barack Obama and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez at a weekend summit in Trinidad — seems to be great for book sales. Specifically, the tome Chavez passed to Obama, “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent” leaped from Number 54,000 on Amazon.com to Number 2, almost overnight.