In these days of media conspiracy-mongering, wherever there’s a live mic, there’s a potential scandal. Right now that prospect hovers over a video that captures the voices of reporters before Mitt Romney’s press conference yesterday regarding the fatal attacks against U.S. personnel in Libya. The reporters are heard saying the following:
Jan Crawford (CBS): That’s the question....Yeah that’s the question. I would just say do you regret your question.
Ari Shapiro (NPR): Your question? Your statement?
Crawford: I mean your statement. Not even your tone, because then he can go off on –
Shapiro: And then if he does, I think we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound’ –
In a statement that critics are really pummeling, Crawford is also heard saying, “No matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” News organizations, writes Tim Graham of NewsBusters, “may be competitive in booking guests, but they’re often not competitive in establishing the theme of the day. They tend to unite on that.”
Both NPR and CBS have declined to comment on the pre-presser discussion.
Commentator Michelle Malkin had this comment: “If it looks, sounds, talks like journo-tools for Obama, it is what it is.” And Ann Coulter: “How could all these reporters independently come up with so many boneheaded questions?”
Let’s hope all this vacuous blather doesn’t diminish cooperation among reporters in fashioning the toughest and most airtight questions to pose to the country’s leaders in press conferences. Interrogatories that leave no wiggle room for their targets, after all, are essential to government accountability.
Whispering among reporters before sessions would be a problem if it applied only to politicians of one party, but not to the other. Caren Bohan, the former president of the White House Correspondents Association, has some perspective on that question. She covered the Bush White House from 2003 to 2008, then shifted to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, then covered his White House for three-and-a-half years. Says Bohan: “Reporters often strategized during the Bush White House and later in the Obama White House about questions and the reason reporters sometimes do this is that presidents are very skilled in providing talking points and in anticipating our questions and so we do from time to time talk amongst ourselves about the best way to ask a question that will get the most direct answer.”
And did such strategizing take a nosedive after the inauguration of President Obama? “No, not at all,” responds Bohan.
Julie Mason, a veteran White House reporter who hosts “The Press Pool” on Sirius XM, suggests that more co-strategizing among White House reporters in the runup to the Iraq war might have better served the public. “The answers we were getting...were really absurd....There was some talk among reporters saying, hey, let’s just sit here and ask the same question until we get an answer,” says Mason.
Another criticism leveled at the reporters in yesterday’s Romney press conference was that they focused several questions on the same issue — about whether the Republican candidate was standing behind his statement from the previous night criticizing the Obama administration for allegedly sympathizing with those who led attacks against U.S. interests and personnel in Egypt and Libya. Katrina Trinko of the National Review Online: “So if a presidential candidate gives remarks about a foreign-policy crisis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that in the Q&A held immediately afterward, reporters would ask him about . . . foreign policy.”
Please forgive a roomful of political reporters for pounding a politician about this highly political statement:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
That bit, plus Romney’s subsequent claims about the administration’s various “apologies,” got some tough treatment from fact-checkers yesterday. If the Romney campaign could show evidence of sympathy and apologism, the mono-questioning might just go away.