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The President Packs the Press Corps

During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask pre-planned questions.

At this afternoon's news conference, President Obama fielded a pre-planned question asked by a planted questioner -- from the Huffington Post.

"Since we're on Iran," the president said after the obligatory first question from the Associated Press's Jennifer Loven, "I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post."

Obama knew this because Pitney had sent what he called a "solicitation" to the White House. Obama aides agreed to call on the Huffington Post writer with the understanding that he would ask a question from an Iranian.

"Nico, I know that you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran," the president went on. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?"

Pitney recognized his prompt. "Yes," Pitney said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian."

Pitney asked his question, as arranged. Reporters in the room looked at each other in amazement at the stagecraft they had just witnessed. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel looked at the first row of TV correspondents and grinned.

The Huffington Post writer's question -- "under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad?" -- was a perfectly legitimate one, and, according to people involved in the arrangement, Pitney didn't share his specific question in advance with the White House.

Still, the private agreement -- to call on a questioner under condition that he ask his question on a particular topic in a particular way -- is very close to what the left justifiably deplored when there were accusations (denied by the media) that the White House was pre-screening reporters and their questions before news conferences.

And Pitney was not the only "plant" at yesterday's news conference. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language E.F.E. news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see if she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. "Okay, Macarena Vidal," Obama called out, as the regulars adopted baffled expressions. She asked about Chile and Colombia.

A couple more questions and Obama called it a day. "Mr. President!" yelled Mike Allen of Politico. "May I ask about Afghanistan?" Obama kept going. "No questions about Iraq or Afghanistan?"

Sorry, those weren't pre-arranged.

UPDATE, 8:48 p.m.: Nico Pitney e-mailed to say that it was the White House that approached him with a request to ask an Iran question, not vice versa. On Huffington Post, he wrote today: "Last night, after emailing with a few people about Obama's press conference and what he might say, I decided to throw it open to our readers. I received a call from White House staff saying they had seen what I'd written and thought the President might be interested in receiving a question directly from an Iranian."

White House spokesman Bill Burton, asked to comment, offered this: "He wasn't planted nor was the question pre-planned. He happened to ask the best question on the issue of Iran, and it isn't one that we knew in advance nor that we asked him to pose." Further, Burton added: "There was no agreement to call on him if he asked about Iran." Finally, he posited: "This is just silly -- did you really think that we needed to pre-arrange questions about Iran in order to get them?"

No, the White House didn't need to. But according to an e-mail Pitney sent to his Huffington Post colleagues Monday night, that's just what the White House did. "The White House called earlier this evening and asked if I could ask a question of President Obama at his press conference tomorrow on behalf of an Iranian," he wrote. "I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog/Facebook/Twitter, etc. It seems fairly likely that this will happen but as they told me, 'it's not 100 percent until he calls your name.'"

The event will be revisited in Wednesday's Washington Sketch column.

By Dana Milbank  | June 23, 2009; 3:40 PM ET
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the difference between bush and obama only goes skin deep

Posted by: newagent99 | June 23, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

All prsidents pick and chose what reporters they wil call on. bush had a gay prostitute who was not even a reporter, if i remember correctly. And didn't bush buy commercials and make them look like they were newscasts?

This is yet another non-story by the Obama bashers. And for the record, bush hatred is rational. He did wreck the world, after all.

Posted by: John1263 | June 23, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

It is widely known that Nico Pitney (Huffington Post) has been in direct communication with Iranians. Literally, Iranians on the the street. In fact, The Economist magazine named Pitney's reports as among the most comprehensive digests of news and information coming out of the country. Not from the Iranian government, but from Iranian protesters on the street.

So the Obama White House invites Pitney to attend the press conference armed with a question from someone on the streets in Iran.

As opposed to the Bush White House inviting Major Garrett (Faux Nooz) to ask Bush how's he's feeling today, how much Iraqi's love us and continually lobbing other "softballs" at the Bush Administration.

Maybe you, Dana, along with the prima donnas in the White House Press Corps are unable to discern the difference, but the rest of us can.


Posted by: dastubbs | June 23, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Dana, you know we're all laughing at you, right? (And truly, I think you're probably having a hard time keeping a straight face, yourself). You and your paper have long ago lost any standing to complain about the lack of integrity in any exercise in journalism.

Posted by: MBinDC | June 23, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

So much for "Change We Can Believe In." How can a man with ears the size of trumpets be so politically tone deaf?

Posted by: jmcauli1 | June 23, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

W. packed the press corps to take a swing at softballs. Nico Pitney's question was most definitely not a softball. Clearly your animus is about the establishment being shunted aside.

Posted by: txurce | June 23, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Nothing wrong with this bit of stagecraft. In fact, it was needed to quash the MSM showing the talking heads of mc cain, his friend lindsey, john bolton, kristol, krauthammer and the rest of the worthless who pal around with the neo-con terrorists like them who want to see the present dictatorial regime in Iran stay in power and crush the opposition so we can launch airstrikes against Iran. After all, the neo-con enemies of America always have to have someone to huff and puff up as being the Death of America enemy besides themselves. Stay strong boys. You'll find another war in another land to start soon. It just won't be Iran like you've always wanted it to be.

Posted by: Patriot3 | June 23, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Change? Heil Obama!

Posted by: BenLaGuer | June 23, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Good reporting Dana. Concerning scripting: what goes around....

Posted by: maxim678504 | June 23, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

"Okay, Macarena Vidal," would have been so much cooler if O had said, "Hey, Macarena," and then did the dance with her.

Our last president was a brilliant dancer who embarassed us regularly. Why can't this one do the same?

Posted by: Patriot3 | June 23, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Dana, before you starting acting holier than thou, let me clue you in to the fact there is a huge between planting a question friendly to the administration to give President to recite his talking points as it often happened in the Bush administration to simply agreeing to a question from an Iranian in the middle of a strife. If you don't understand the difference, you have a problem with your rationale and logic.

Posted by: kevin1231 | June 23, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Patriot3 wrote:

"In fact, it was needed to quash the MSM showing the talking heads of mc cain, his friend lindsey, john bolton, kristol, krauthammer and the rest of the worthless who pal around with the neo-con terrorists like them who want to see the present dictatorial regime in Iran stay in power and crush the opposition so we can launch airstrikes against Iran."


Wow, so Krauthammmer's stinging rebuke of Obama in today's Post for not expressing clear, unequivocal support for the protesters kind of screws up your wingnut conspiracy theory, huh?

Let's face it, Obama wanted a question that makes it appear that he feels the pain of those on the ground in Tehran, even though politically he is providing cover for the Iranian regime by engaging in talks with them. Obama's stance and this press conference are a sham, and everyone knows it. Welcome, everyone, to Bush's third term.

Posted by: blert | June 23, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Obama moved the press conference indoors from the rose garden ostensibly because it was too hot outdoors. Come on..., 85f and 50% is not at all too hot or humid by any East coast standard.

This administration is so dependent on lying about most everything it can't even bring itself to tell the truth about the current weather. Why should we believe anything that comes out of their mouths?

Posted by: DarkMatter | June 23, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Dana, Dana, Dana. Which angers you most..... that it was the Huffington Post, a mere internet blog, or that it was a newbie, Nicco. Sorry, but if I hear one more dumb or snarky question from the Washington press corps I will split a gut. Chuckie and Chipper throw hissy fits if they are not called on ( and you know there is a tacit understanding they will be called on because they ALWAYS are) but are amazed apparently when someone outside the press inner circle is. What the heck is wrong with trying to spread it around a little. They have become just a little too precious. You would do better to critique the quality of the questions that are normally asked. I stopped watching the Sunday shows because it is the same 30 or so talking heads that are recycled going over the same talking points, sometimes feigning outrage or trying to turn things into a WWE Throwdown. The same is true of the press briefings and press conferences. Look at the totality of the questions asked today honestly and I think that you will find that fifty percent lacked substance or were not really questions but opinions spoken with question intonation. As to little ole Nicco. Hey man, this guy has been a great source of information on what is going on in Iran the last week or so. Live blogging and tweets may not be to your liking, but that is all we really had to go on after the MSM was shut down. So lay off Nicco and give a little crap to Chuck, Chip, Suzanne, and who ever asked the dumb cig question. And we still love you!

Posted by: tarryh | June 23, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

kevin1231 wrote:

"there is a huge between planting a question friendly to the administration to give President to recite his talking points as it often happened in the Bush administration to simply agreeing to a question from an Iranian in the middle of a strife."


Actually, no, there is no difference. Planting a question is planting a question. And if Obama is planting the question or the questioner, it is because he wants to use that to make himself look good. In this case, he wants to give lip service to the Iranians who are dying by taking a question from an Iranian, even though he does nothing politically to support them, and even somewhat undermines them by, as Gibbs mused, hoping that the protests don't damage Obama's nuclear talks with Iran's regime. Obama gives legitimacy to the leaders who stole this election by engaging with them, and this planted question was nothing more than political cover for himself and the opportunity to burn precious time in a press conference so that Obama didn't have to answer a more difficult (real) question about the deteriorating situation in Iraq since Obama took office or the increasingly troubled situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the president gets to choose what he wants to talk about in a press conference, it ceases to be a true press conference.

Posted by: blert | June 23, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Amazing how the Bush bashers are so quick to try to point out the modest differences between the question-rigging, in hopes of innoculating their guy. Distinctions without a difference.

You either take rigged questions or you don't. The strained justifications and arguments by what the righties would call 'moonbats' are some pretty good comedy for a Tues afternoon.

Posted by: jd234 | June 23, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

It is irresponsible for a Washington Post columnist to provide derogatory information about Obama. Exposing this type of information to the opposition can have the effect of weakening or undermining the administration and their plan to carry out the will of those sophisticated people such as John1263 and patriot3 who voted for change.

Posted by: raym39 | June 23, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"Sorry, those weren't pre-arranged."

Where is the evidence that Obama planted the questions? I don't think Obama did anything wrong. I think Millbank is just upset because Obama didn't follow the established pecking order among the press corps. The Iranian question and Obama's answer were good. But he ruffled Dana Millbank's feathers and that was unforgivable. Also I dislike Millbank's sarcasm that apparently he thinks passes for humor. This definitly is not the same as what Bush did. The snarkiness of some of Millbank's columns comes off as a bit obnoxious for my taste. I wonder if it is intentional or just due to the guy's personality?

Posted by: zotz | June 23, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Chicago filth at its best.

Posted by: JoeTH | June 23, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Milbank,

Nico Pitney has direct links to Iranians on the street, and thus is more than qualified to ask questions regarding the administration's position on events there.

Bush's W.H. had alleged "experts" who were plants only repeating the "talking points" to convince folks Iraq was involved in 9/11, had WMD's, was procuring a nuclear bomb,...ALL LIES.

Someone's got to temper the GOP hard-liner's now (McCain, Graham, Krauthammer, Wolfowitz, Gearson, etc.) all advocating we meddle into the Iranian's election debacle. It was Cheney who advocated engaging Iran (using a black-op as a pretext), and McCain who was singing "Bomb...Iran." Krauthammer & Wolfowitz wrote op-eds earlier this week supporting our involvement in Iran. Advice on Middle East foreign policy coming from these jokers is as credible as Josef Mengele's on medical ethics, and as welcome as Bernie Madoff's on financial investments.

Posted by: tinaandreou | June 23, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Granted the questioner was indentified ahead of time, but as you note... the question was not known prior to the group grope. Dana, your point about it being comparable to Shrub would be valid if the "question" from the Iranian (standing in for the gay male prostitute who somehow got repeated access to the WH pressroom) was not a question but a genuflecting exercise in homage with a dig at the opposition party. Something like "Mr Obama, you are Fantastic. How on earth do you work with the nutjob people in the GOP?". On the condition that the "reporter" was a lesbian who charged by the hour for her services. THEN.... it would be comparable.

Posted by: PayAttention | June 23, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't see the major issue here. I mean, generally I think that the president should not be free to pre-screen his questioners. He should have to take questions on the fly. So, the entire press conference seems like a bit of a joke (Nico Putney, do you have a question? Are you even here?).

Having said that, though, I don't know that the Huffington Post was necessarily tipping off Obama. Nico's been chatting with people on the streets of Tehran. He showed up at a press conference armed with questions from these folks. Big deal.

It's a lot different than questions such as the legendary one from David Gregory, the freaking host of Meet The Press, when he asked Obama's predecessor whether he thought our shock and awe campaign would overwhelm the Iraqis or if he thought it would be our ground troops that would overwhelm the Iraqis.

You're annoyed because Obama called on an actual reporter. The better argument is to simply question the whole notion that Obama can select questioners ahead of time -- and that he can prevent the asking of follow-up questions.

Posted by: teoandchive | June 23, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

As you noticed he did not use a teleprompter because the people who were representing the "press" were already rehearsed hence no need for a teleprompter to explain to B O how to answer. I know this is what we all hoped for when we heard all of those speeches on transparency and openness.....and the press just ejaculates with gushing delight for the anointed one

Posted by: jnorow | June 23, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I love how insouciant Obama is about it. Call it transparency in stagecraft. Nico Pitney isn't a gay internet porn star, is he?

Posted by: Mauckjw | June 23, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

You know .....the media really must get over itself. Talk about pompous. Give it a rest Dana. This is hardly something never done before .... by any President!

Posted by: Sonny53 | June 23, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Here's the video of Obama answering Nico Pitney's question in case you missed it:

Posted by: mjwilstein | June 23, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

It looks like we are coming full circle, back to the days when the WH reporters were the president's boon companions instead of yapping watchdogs. In the 60's the scribes turned a blind eye to who was swimming in the pool with JFK, and then some of Lyndon Johnson's less-than-stellar moments. Jerked out of complacency by Nixon and Watergate, they did the job right for a change. But now, retrograde motion.

I spent some time in that press room back in the 90's. It's easy to get comfortable there, take the handouts, not rock the boat too much. But now more than ever it's time for scribes to mind their manners a little less and get on the president's case. He needs them as much as they need him -- Never forget that, guys and gals.

Oh Sam Donaldson. Wherefore art thou?

P.S. The whole Jeff Gannon/Chicago politics/Bush routine is getting tedious. Find something new to carp about on this page.

Posted by: sheehanjc | June 23, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Did he kick you "OBAMA MUST FAIL" Beltway Expert Journalists (and I use that term very lightly) - in your teeney-weenie little journalistic 'nads?
Awwwwwwwwww, thas too too bad. He was a BAD OBAMA....

Posted by: Tomcat3 | June 23, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Who set the bar so low?

Posted by: Tomcat3 | June 23, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The Knights Who Say Ni want a shrubbery. A nice one. At least Obama's plants do not require watering and manure.

Posted by: hlabadie | June 23, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Why didn't Dana Milbank ever ask President Bush about his WMD claims? I think that too was pre-arranged.

Posted by: fishingriver | June 23, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

It was completely apropos for the president to get a question from someone who is known to be in contact with people in Iran. There's something momentous going on there, did you not notice that Milbank? I WANT to hear from the Iranian people and this reporter was able to provide. The president recognized the importance of getting a question from someone in Iran and had the resource to do so with this reporter, Nicco. Besides, your criticism of "stagecraft" is hollow since, as you report, it was so obvious. He wasn't trying to hide anything! You know all these details of how it happened. So what's the story? You say yourself the president didn't know beforehand what the questions was going to be. I sure as hell am more interested in hearing the presidents answer to a question from someone in Iran about how he's going to respond to the Iranian government then I am in a question on the same topic from a WH reporter. And you left off the most important part: the presidents answer.

Posted by: quartz | June 23, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Wingnuts of Amerika, Unite!

Get out the Reynolds Wrap. Adjust your tinfoil antenna. There will be a specially called emergency meeting tonight of all real and poseur neo-cons, Cheney and Bush apologists and Obama dislikers to vote on which country should be attacked after Iran and why Obama's press conferences are not as scripted as those few and far between press conferences orchestrated by former Dear Leader Bush.

Guest speakers will be the same tired old usual suspects, but we had them take an afternoon nap so they should be able to stay awake, Johnnie Bomb Bomb Iran McCain, his trusty sidekick Lindsey, various and sundry chickenhawks including but not limited to Billy Kristol, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Johnny Bolton and Jeff Gannon. There will be special video appearances by Dick Keep the Faith Cheney and his trusty sidekick George as well as Glenn Cry My Eyes Out Beck, Rush Hope They All Fail Limbaugh and Sean Don't Waterboard Me Hannity. It wil be fun for all!

Real or poseur, there is enough room in the New Neo-Con Militia for all, you can count on that. You already have stocked up on your ammo but you will have to check your weapons at the door to avoid any accidental discharges from your weapons or elsewhere.

Know that this is not an intervention. You will not be captured, strait-jacketed, tazed or sedated unless the Authoritarians in charge deem it necessary for the good of the order or anything else. Death to All Things Not Neo-Con Praise Be to Allah and see you tonight!

Posted by: Patriot3 | June 23, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

There is a major difference in supporting President Obama and being a "kool-aid" drinker. I support the President, but I also support the Media in keeping the President honest with us. This incident in itself is not a big deal, but, it can lead to a big deal and that is the problem.

Posted by: paris1969 | June 23, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Are Dana's little feelings hurt?

So sad.

Dana - I looked for the article that you did on Jeff Gannon during his "tenure" at the WH press gatherings.

Didn't find it.

I swear, most of the MSM's "journalists" could take a lesson or two from the bloggers.

No worries...the free market system will sort this all out for the remaining "rags."

Posted by: bonsai5966 | June 23, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

If Librals didn't have such delusional LOVE AFFAIR WITH FACIST DICTATORS the servile press would make the point that their HERO the ZERO isn't " deeply troubled" about anything but his failure to fool the THINKING ELECTORATE that he has more soul than a roach. He has to prevent hard questions so that his zombies will stay dazzled. Questions ike " Are you worried that your deadbeat concern may cause evil to grow as it did in CHINA . America was a deadbeat then and the communist government brutally crushed students protests in Tiananmen Square . Now we have to borrow from the heathens. News item for this worthless fraud is him going to the ice cream store.

Posted by: noHUCKABEEnoVOTE | June 23, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

"This is yet another non-story by the Obama bashers. And for the record, bush hatred is rational. He did wreck the world, after all."


Bush is bad, Obama good. Got it.
I see you also get the same daily Memo from the Left-Wing nutjobs at the Huffington Post.
Besides, give Obama time, he's well on his way to wrecking this country, I'm sure he'll get around to the rest of the world soon enough.

Posted by: websterr1 | June 23, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

While I'm glad to see Dana is on the case... I'm not going to hold my breath that any tv newsers besides Fox are going to point this out.

The media is supposed to be a watchdog, not a lapdog. I don't know how, don't know why, but the media is going to regret falling in love with Obama.

Posted by: fiestamom | June 23, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

"It is widely known that Nico Pitney (Huffington Post) has been in direct communication with Iranians. Literally, Iranians on the the street."

There are western reporters in direct communications with Iranians literally on the street because they are standing on those same streets next to the Iranians.

The problem with this selection is the blatant left wing bias of the Huff Post.

Posted by: Hawaiian_Gecko | June 23, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

DEA 'heads' up, did you see the 'potted' nico (tine) dope plant at the White House, too, today?

Posted by: lockmallup | June 23, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

> Obama called out, as the regulars adopted baffled expressions.

Sweet. Now you know what many Americans look like after yet another thoughtful, incisive query from Politico.

> Reporters in the room looked at each other in amazement at the stagecraft they had just witnessed.

"I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that there is gambling going on in here!"

Posted by: jes7 | June 23, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

"So the Obama White House invites Pitney to attend the press conference armed with a question from someone on the streets in Iran.
As opposed to the Bush White House inviting Major Garrett (Faux Nooz) to ask Bush how's he's feeling today, how much Iraqi's love us and continually lobbing other "softballs" at the Bush Administration.
Maybe you, Dana, along with the prima donnas in the White House Press Corps are unable to discern the difference, but the rest of us can. DAStubbs,

Note one other difference, that Obama didn't pretend that the questions weren't arranged in advance. In fact, he apparently made sure everyone knew what was going on.

Openness, and all that.

Posted by: ceflynline | June 23, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Who cares?

The media is so overwhelmingly in the tank for Obama, you should all just sit down, shut up, and do what you're told.

Just look at the comments here... the lefties are still so overwhelmed by their hatred of Bush (though, granted, all liberals know is hate) that they don't care what the Democrats are doing to the country.

Posted by: malclave | June 23, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Funny thing is the 2 reporters who asked the questions were the best of the lot.

Major Garrets was the worst.

Posted by: AverageJane | June 23, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Oh, c'mon. He called on ABC's Tapper, and Fox's Garrett, and plenty of other "usual suspects." The worst you can come up with is that he agreed to let Pitney ask a question and decided to mix it up a little with a Spanish reporter who asked about something not normally on the main agenda? If Pitney had asked some softball, it would be one thing, but it was a good question.

Posted by: LisaAK | June 23, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse


Are the poor widdle press upset cause they can't keep putting up lame op/ed pieces and get called on in class with really lame questions that have nothing to do with the press conference.

Grow up.

When you start behaving like an intelligent press - with on-topic questions that are actually relevant and not thinly-guised America-hating neocon questions, maybe you'll get to ask a question.

Until then, tough.

Posted by: WillSeattle | June 23, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse


to pre-program the Intelliprompter 7700 and

choreograph grimmaces, glances of dismissal, and speech pace.

So give Obama a break if he needs to plant all the reporters........

Posted by: JaxMax | June 23, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse


Are you upset about the question being staged or that a president finally had the guts to ignore "big media" and take questions from someone with a brain?

The sooner CNN, CNBC and Fox go off the air the better off we will all be.

Posted by: Southeasterner | June 23, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse


(WASHINGTON DC) The White House has announced new smackdown procedures for Press Conferences.

"For too long Media personalities have been deviating from their pre-approved questions, and camera operators are deliberately filming side shots of The Obama's ears," announced President Obama.

'So, The Obama is re instituting the ancient and accepted practice in Ancient Rome," President Obama continued.

"Thumbs down means the question is unacceptable and the Media personality will be pummeled and then wrestled to the ground by the Secret Service." The President concluded.

The Jerry Springer show announced new live coverage of Obama Press Conferences, preempting paternity test smackdowns.

Posted by: JaxMax | June 23, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

OH come on Dana, you are just annoyed that the news site, huffington post, that was so far ahead of Wapo and other traditional media on the first weekend after the Iran election when you were still snoozing and largely reporting the Iranina government line, and which continues to outstrip your own papers reporting because its better atuned to extracting information from the internet, is getting recognition from the President. If you want to be at all relevant to the reporting of this story, compete, don't whine. You are so pathetic.

Posted by: mexmanic | June 23, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Arm yourself, Dana.
The Greek--itch Goddess in on the warpath at Huffpo.
She's raised her dress! Peuh!

Posted by: HereComesTheJudge | June 23, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

The fact that the press LET the President plant a question says way more about the 'unfettered' press than it does about the President. Can you 'fetter' yourself?

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | June 23, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Your faux-outrage about the planted question is unfortunate to say the least.
If Obama did not know the question in advance, how can the question be planted? For sure, the questioner can be planted but the question was not. Did not the entire news corps have opportunities to ask about Iran yest did not ask that one simple question but instead goaded the Pres. to respond to the pathetic , belligerent and meaningless statements from his erstwhile competitor and old man who sang about bombing Iran?
Is your main issue with the fact that questioner was from an online site rather than the established press who seem more interested in trying to get him to admit he has smoked rather than ask him about Afghanistan or Iraq?
If there's a sham going on, it's in the established media, not in this President.

Posted by: dominic_crotty | June 23, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse


Are Dana's little feelings hurt?

So sad.

Dana - I looked for the article that you did on Jeff Gannon during his "tenure" at the WH press gatherings.

Didn't find it.

You couldn't have looked very hard. A quick Google search turned up 5,600 hits. Many of those were WP articles from DM. Nice effort. I'm sure you worked to the limit of your capabilities

Posted by: sheehanjc | June 23, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a deceitful Radical. He is a Fake, a Fraud. He is in the process of destroying the Nation, intentionally.

Posted by: FraudObama | June 23, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

flim-flams and scams...way to go Washington Press Corps. You are being duped duped and played by Obama and his cronies and they are laughing about it. Just great.

Posted by: DaMan2 | June 23, 2009 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Obama has allowed more access in his first few months than Reagan or Bush allowed in their first year. I applaud that. However, I agree with Dana that stage managing the press conferences is wrong, regardless of party. Presidents should call on a variety of reporters and answer anything he's asked, regardless of what it is.

Posted by: NCDem1 | June 23, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Obama remarking about the falsities of Bush is like the pot calling the kettle black.

Posted by: sperrico | June 23, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Another funny article. You have quite a vicious tongue there, Mr. Milbank. Any way of getting a proportion of questions that were planted in this manner?

Posted by: Martial | June 23, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

This is pretty dumb and the Bush analogy does not hold.

The media has a crazy idea that it has to hold both sides equally accountable even if one side isn't doing anything wrong. Bush's staged questions were, "Did you know that many of us are praying for you every day?"

Obama mixed it up with some non-traditional media outlets and a few of the old guard is a little pissy about it. If the questions had been lame softballs then you have a column. All you have here is something to turn in before your deadline.

Posted by: farkdawg | June 23, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

What's the issue? The White House let a real and respected Iranian analyst ask him a difficult question. And you compare that to George Bush's staff arranging for a non-journalist, male prostitute to throw softball questions at the president. I can see why Milbank no longer appears on Countdown. He has lost all honesty and fairness in reporting in trying to make Obama look the same as Bush. All that remains of Milbank is snarkiness.

Posted by: DWSouthern | June 23, 2009 11:38 PM | Report abuse

So the president calls on two pre-selected people. And the questions are legitimate. What is the problem?

How many other questions did he field?
Also, how many other news outlets were providing access to Iranians that want to be heard but cannot?

Posted by: sjwolf | June 23, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

By giving a fake headline "The President Packs the Press Corps" Dana Milbank is simply destroying whatever credibility he had left. It will be nice if he stops wallowing in his own arrogance.

Posted by: kevin1231 | June 23, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

An old Italian lived alone in New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.

His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here, my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

Love, Pop

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.

Love, Vinnie

At 4:00 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you, Vinnie

Posted by: pedjr336 | June 23, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

OMG, that sniveling rant literal made my skin crawl. Pathetic.

Posted by: Rick46 | June 24, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

If the president is made aware that a blogger/journalist has been receiving questions directly from people in Iran (Huffpo has had great coverage of the situation in Iran), why would it be unusual for him to call on that blogger? Receiving a question and providing a response to a question from someone actually living in the situation would seem pertinent. From what I understand, the President wasn't given the question ahead of time. I don't have a problem with it. It sure beats stupid sports questions the press has been known to ask.

Posted by: houston_progressive | June 24, 2009 12:21 AM | Report abuse

So, in other words, the president didn't pack the press corps, it wasn't a pre-planned question, it wasn't a "plant", and Mr. Milbank remains at the level of credibility and professionalism he's repeatedly established for himself.

And to make room for more of this, Mr. Hiatt fired Dan Froomkin?!

Posted by: sembtex | June 24, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Why is Dana surprised about this just now? Obama has been doing this all along. Answering pre-arranged questions with the help of a teleprompter. As painful as it was to watch, at least Bush did wing it with the press corps. Obama, on the other hand, is smoke and mirrors.

Posted by: member5 | June 24, 2009 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Geez, maybe Dana Milbank is one of the last 3 real Journalists in America. Jake Tapper and Major Garrett are the other two. What a relief that they don't all bend over for Obama.

Posted by: priley8104 | June 24, 2009 3:23 AM | Report abuse

Arianna Huffington's response to this was more satisfying than anything I’ve read in months.

What’s hilarious is how Millbank and Calderone and the others spend years and years with this little insider’s club with David Gregory and Chuck Todd et al getting to ask the questions, and the moment some dirty unwashed blogger gets to ask one they’re screaming “Insider! Collusion! Not fair!” in a near-hysterical fit of outrage.

Let’s see, someone whose Iran coverage has won world-wide praise for his coverage is called on to ask a question about Iran, and because he’s not one of the anointed Beltway Insiders who would have asked another question about smoking or “can you respond to the Republican talking point that you’re either from Islamo-land or Neptune?”, they’re furious and stamping their little feet all over the Washington Post.

I look forward to more of this. It's entertainment in its finest sense, in that it's both hilarious and reveals the truth.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | June 24, 2009 3:55 AM | Report abuse

Full disclosure of this shows the contempt the administration has for the intelligence of the American public.

Props to the HuffPo guy for being totally honest.

Posted by: jsc173 | June 24, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Hey Dana Get over yourself ! It's not your press conference , not the Post's, not any network or news media conglomerate's. Somebody do Excellent work for the People got to ask a question of the People's President at THEIR press conference. Your media giant, monied and advantaged position didn't pay off this time- You Know : The Way It Should Be ! With all your experience, advantages and entrenched support, a little competition from a new kid who should win a Pulitzer leaves you inventing conspiracies and primping and crying like the former Ms. California! On the bright side, you have show your" true colors". I read your word with ALOT LESS respect on confidence from now on !

Posted by: bobo28 | June 24, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

A couple major differences here.

Obama agreed to take a question from a specific reporter. Obama didn't know what the question was going to be. Plus, he fully disclosed in front of you and everybody else that it had been arranged.

The press corp for months sat by while Jeff Gannon lobbed friendly and softball questions at the president. Often the questions themselves were preplanned and you guys had no idea.

Posted by: dmineau | June 24, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse


I am laughing at you. You are lame as a journalist. I don't think you really care as long as the weenies are fresh and you have money in the bank.

Why don't you go make up more stories with misquotes from anonymous emails?

Posted by: dailykos1 | June 24, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I am shocked, just shocked that the White House would do such a thing...

Tsk, tsk.

Posted by: aloysius1 | June 24, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

dana - i guess we couldn't expect you to be objective in this piece, and it shows. i hope you know that too. nico pitney is not jeff gannon.

isn't the underyling issue here the failure of traditional media to be the most respected source of information on the iran uprising?

Posted by: milowent | June 24, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

When Obama called upon the reporter from the Huffington Post he probably had roughly about the same idea of what kind of question he would be getting as when he was fielding a question from the Fox reporter. He was going to get something predictable from each.

Obama got his share of tough questions and he answered and diplomatically deflected with aplomb. His rebuttal to I believe Chuck regarding how they the reporters were on a 24 hour news cycle but that he the president wasn't pretty much cut to the quick. Indeed one wonders if some of the leading questions looking for a soundbyte carry unnecessary risks to U.S. foreign policy. Getting Obama to slip and say something unsavory might be a press coup of sorts but how does that help U.S. policy?

Posted by: tesuji | June 24, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Be serious, Milbank. A planted question is when the subject attempts to make it look like the questioner just happened to ask a question that was actually requested by the subject. Here, the President called out Nico by name and even specifically explained why Nico was being called upon. He requested a question that was from an Iranian, which is exactly what Pitney would have asked had he not been so directed and Pitney gave him a question that cannot by any definition be considered easy or in any way tee-d up for a prepared answer. All you could say is that it lacked the "gotcha" kind of difficulty that too many reporters throw out at these vents. Nobody, not even you, are suggesting that the President knew what the question would be. So tell me, what is wrong with what just happened?

Posted by: sethblink | June 24, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

So to Milbank and all those saying that there is no difference between Obama and Bush in terms of planted questions . . Pitney is to Obama what Gagnon (the male prostitute that asked Bush soft ball questions when the heat was on)is to Bush.

Listen, I hate to give the Bush Administration any credit but I will give them this -- they new how to work the press to the point they became merely stenographers -- and they did this with perfection.

It really is quite a treat to see the press now sniveling because some different type of news organization -- you know, the ones that practice actual journalism -- asking a real, thought provoking question.

Posted by: ChicagoTodd | June 24, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Awww the WaPo is butt hurt b/c they are no longer relevant. Quick Dana, go put on a goofy hat and dance, monkey, dance!!!!

Posted by: BlahBlahBlah314 | June 24, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

It's really hard reading this all the way to the end. Could you please put a summary at the top so I don't have to read all the maddening filler just to get to your point? Something like "president's plant talks at conference. Bad because _________________"


P.s. - I know you won't but that's ok. You don't make any sense to begin with.

P.P.s - you're right - President Obama called me a little while ago and asked me to write this. Just to irritate you.

Posted by: howard11 | June 24, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Dear Dana,
This articles = major fail. As an Iranian-American, I've found Nico's blog to be both accurate and informative. The Post, not so much.

Posted by: nadia2 | June 24, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Dana - I've always held the belief that you were an honest journalist. Your jealousy is showing here! Nico Pitney has been live-blogging with Iranians for over a week non-stop; who better to give input on what they want to ask Obama? Everyone is trying so hard to find something wrong with our President - why not embrace the fact there there is finally intelligent life in the White House? Bush had an "all Bush all the time" network for years - he still does (Fox). So Huffington Post is in Obama's pocket? I don't think so - ask Arianna, who has been complaining about his financial policies. We can respect someone and criticize them at the same time, at least that's what they say about our country and why it's so great!

Posted by: suesher | June 24, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

How come no one asked Obama why he has failed to capture Bin Laden? Wasn't that a popular question from the left for the last few years? Hasn't Biden suggested to Obama that all he had to do is go to the same cave he told President Bush to storm? Enquiring leftists want to know?

Posted by: dryden01 | June 24, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

What a load of puerile crap.

Dana, you are coming across as a child, pissed off that someone got a bigger piece of dessert. i.e.: "How DARE a blogger be singled out!"

Not to mention - your reporting seems willfully misleading:

What do you mean to insinuate by "a particular way"? Sounds sinister; no clarity.

At the end of your piece you claim that "that's just what the WH did", referring to the WH arranging to get a question about Iran.


It was for the purpose of getting a question FROM an Iranian; big difference. And as I find it difficult to believe that you cannot discern that difference, I am left to assume petulance on your part; MISLEADING petulance, Sir.

Posted by: fkliska | June 24, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I imagine if you had done the kind of fantastic job Mr. Pitney has done in regards to reporting the situation in Iran, someone might have called on you. You are starting to sound like so many of those you cover. All those suits with an arrogant sense of entitlement. That you are so bereft of real news to write about you need to write this is really kind of embarrasing.

Posted by: lightnessandjoy | June 26, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Just viewed mr. milbanks appearance on reliable sources - to think that dan froomkin was let go and milbank, the juvenile schlep is still employed is unbelievable.

Milbank obviously has his panties in a wad because huffpo got an opportunity to ask a question posed by Iranians and he didn't. Try doing the work milbank and opportunities will come. You proved yourself to be a hack for the bush admin, you have to regain your legitimacy in a tangible way.

Milbank couldn't hold Froomkins urine specimen.

Grow up dana, such juvenility isn't attractive in a 7 year old, it's even more disgusting coming from a grown man.

Posted by: houston_progressive | June 28, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Watching Milbank go ballastic over this on CNN, I get the distinct impression that this is professional jealousy.

Milbank believes that Obama should respect the WP's monopoly on journalism, even though the Huffington Post is booming and the WP is laying off staff left and center. (They seem to keep the Right-wing hacks on staff.)

This is petty, ugly and smears the reputation of the WP. For shame!

Posted by: AxelDC | June 28, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Re: You calling Nico Pitney a "dick". I think the psychological term that best describes you is "Projection".

Posted by: born2bdave | June 28, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

This paper and you Dana Milbank are perfect examples of the beltway BS that passes for journalism. From the boot black that you put on you hair to the smug look and condescending attitude that you display everytime your on TV, you remind me of what the Washington Post represents, beltway sellout in all it's glory. Give me twitter and huff any day of the week.

Cincinnati Oh

Posted by: boomergeek | June 28, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Pitney's work above all had integrity, seeking content from a wide variety of sources, culling and warning the reader about what might be questionable information, staying up-to-date, balancing video with personal accounts, keeping the story moving and alive and always advancing the narrative.

The day before the presser, I read what Pitney wrote about his shot at being asked a question at the press conference. Anyone (Milbank for example) reading Pitney's blog to stay informed about developments in Iran would have known that Pitney would choose a good question and not blink. Such had been the integrity of his work throughout.

Like many, I suppose, I tuned into the presser to see what he had come up with. And what a good question it was.

You should be ashamed of yourself for not having kept yourself informed, for not focusing on what was important, and for misrepresenting what Pitney did. You were intellectually dishonest in the way he represented Pitney's actions before and during the press conference.

Posted by: msblucow1 | June 29, 2009 2:46 AM | Report abuse

Ahhh, sweet jealousy!

Face it. Pitney ran rings around your lard-butted journalistic laurel-sitting.

The right wingers you made a career apologizing for piled on Obama for not supporting the uprising in a manner to their liking. Then, when the preeminent journalist blogging the Iranian resistance was afforded an opportunity to ask a question, a question it turns out was so difficult that Obama had to dodge it, a question that Dana Milbank couldn't have dreamed up in his wildest flight of fancy, you denigrate the administration for having the audacity to solicit questions from that resistance, in fact, an historic event in itself.

Unlike Jeff Gannon from "Talon News," Pitney never attempted to hide the fact he was contacted by the White House. Where was your public admonition to the Bush White House for calling on the Talon News "reporter" for what were undoubtedly softball questions? I don't recall seeing you on Reliable Sources putting the gay military stud to task. You were hiding somewhere under the "Mission Accomplished" banner I suppose.

Your impartiality and credibility have been shattered by this spectacle, and that's entirely of your own making, Mr. Milbank. You've managed to make a complete fool of yourself on this one. You would have been far better served by quietly recognizing that you need to do a better job rather than lashing out at those who've outdone you.

Posted by: dgblues | June 29, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

born2bdave said: "Re: You calling Nico Pitney a 'dick'. I think the psychological term that best describes you is 'Projection'."

Indeed. Or simply the Rovian tactic of attributing one's own characteristics to their opponent.

Posted by: dgblues | June 29, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse


You have never looked more like a prissy little bee-yotch than you did when pissing and moaning at Mr. Pitney. You could hear history passing the Post by.

Memo to Dana: They're laughing AT you, not laughing with you.

Posted by: mdean3 | June 29, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I wish Mr.Milbank was wearing his hunters outfit when he was defending his integrity.

Posted by: mail13 | June 29, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

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