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At news conference, White House tries to spread the wealth

November 14, 2011|By Peter Nicholas
  • President Obama answers questions during a news conference at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Kapolei, Hawaii, on Sunday.
President Obama answers questions during a news conference at the conclusion… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

Reporting from Honolulu — It's a sore point for some members of the White House press corps. When President Obama holds a news conference, he allots a certain amount of time for questions, working off a list of reporters he intends to call on.

If he taps a reporter who proceeds to ask two, three or four questions, there's less time available to call on someone else.

In that sense, a presidential news conference is a zero sum game.

Since Obama took office, a pattern has emerged: Not all that many reporters get to ask questions. Part of the reason is he tends to filibuster in his responses, soaking up the available time. But another is that reporters have been squeezing in a bunch of different questions.

It may be a new day.

Before Obama gave a news conference Sunday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sent an email to members of the press corps traveling with the president. Carney reminded all concerned of an indisputable fact: Reporters asking "multiple questions on multiple topics with multiple follow-ups" are preventing other reporters from asking a question. He offered a suggestion. When you get called on, stick to one question "out of respect for your traveling colleagues."

Carney wrote: "It's completely up to you and all the same to us – he'll take questions for the amount of time we have available regardless of how many people he can call on in that time.

"I'm making this suggestion solely because we believe it will allow more of the journalists who have traveled a significant distance at significant expense to have an opportunity to question the president."

Seems sensible.

So when the news conference rolled around, things moved pretty snappily. Neither Obama nor the press corps hogged the airtime.

When it was his turn, NBC's Chuck Todd asked two questions: one on Congress's deficit reduction committee, the second involving a private conversation between Obama and his French counterpart that was picked up by a live microphone. Todd's a pro, but Obama couldn't resist a little ribbing. It sounded as though he might have been aware of the Carney note.

"Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions -- so far.  So just -- when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue --" he paused.

"I'm messing with you, Chuck."

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