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Obama vs. the News Cycle

President Obama, making his most extensive and personal remarks yet condemning the crushing of dissent by the Iranian regime, also stressed today that it's not his job to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle, with its rapacious appetite for conflict and ultimatums, but rather to advance the interests of the country on his own clock.

Responding to insistent questioning at today's press conference from NBC News's Chuck Todd about why he wouldn't "spell out the consequences" for the Iranian government, Obama shot back: "We don't know yet how this thing is going to play out.

"I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. OK?"

And when CBS News's Chip Reid recounted criticism from Republicans including former presidential candidate John McCain that Obama had thus far been timid and weak in his comments about Iran, Obama fired back: "You know, I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues. And, you know, I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail.

"But only I'm the president of the United States. And I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries."

He added: "I think that in the hothouse of Washington, there may be all kinds of stuff going back and forth in terms of Republican critics versus the administration. That's not what is relevant to the Iranian people.... They're trying to figure out how can they make sure justice is served in Iran."

Obama has often disparaged the short attention spans, the tit-for-tat politics and the endless cable chatter so rampant in Washington.

There were in fact quite a few moments of excitement at today's press conference, something we've rarely seen at these occasions in the past. From reporters, there was a crack likening Obama to Mr. Spock, the over-logical Vulcan from Star Trek, a prying question about his smoking habits -- and a lot of follow-up questions.

For his part, Obama mixed good humor with some sharp retorts.

The most contentious exchange was with Margaret Talev of McClatchy Newspapers. Obama yesterday signed legislation aimed at reducing the number of young people who start smoking -- reigniting the fascination among the White House press corps over whether Obama has well and truly quit his habit.

"How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law should help you to quit? If so, why?" Talev asked.

"Well, the -- first of all, the new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret, to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking as opposed to it being relevant to my new law.

"But that's fine. I understand. It's an interesting human -- it's an interesting human interest story.

"Look, I've said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. The -- am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family. And, you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But there are times where -- (LAUGHTER). There are times where I mess up. And I mean, I've said this before. I get this question about once every month or so. And, you know, I don't know what to tell you, other than the fact that, you know, like folks who go to A.A., you know, once you've gone down this path, then, you know, it's something you continually struggle with, which is precisely why the legislation we signed was so important, because what we don't want is kids going down that path in the first place.


Obama signaled his defiance of the traditional Washington media early on -- by going off the grid to call on Nico Pitney, a Huffington Post editor, for his second question Pitney has has been liveblogging the Iranian uprising as it plays out on the Internet.

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

In response to a question from CNN's Suzanne Malveaus about the "shocking video" of an Iranian woman shot in the chest and bleeding to death in the street (embedded below), Obama said he had seen it, and found it "heartbreaking. It's -- it's heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that."

Obama also spoke at length about health care, making his most spirited defense yet of his proposal to offer the public the option of buying insurance from a government-run plan.

"Now, the public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies," he explained.

And he mocked the argument that a government plan would drive private insurance out of business: "Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If -- if private -- if private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

Obama acknowledged "a legitimate concern, if the public plan was simply eating off the taxpayer trough, that it would be hard for private insurers to compete." But he said it shouldn't be set up that way.

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 23, 2009; 2:39 PM ET
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i am a democrat i voted for obama sent him money, i am not some gun toting republican

why dont the white house press core stop kissing obama"s ass damm have there no shame
why didnt anyone ask him about the white house visitors logs that he wont release

Posted by: bois1 | June 23, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Why are all the questions being asked assuming a GOP taking point as the basis?

Posted by: LeRiverend | June 23, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who did not think the White House press was in the tank for Obama had only to watch that press conference. I half expected them to hold an impromtu vote for homecoming king, 'cause he's so dreamy.

Posted by: cletus1 | June 23, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

its sickening what does obama have on these people
i smell rahm emanuel here, i am starting to agree with bill orielly about the media being in bed with obama all these soft ball questions make me sick

Posted by: bois1 | June 23, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

cletus1, I'm not sure what you were watching today, but it was obviously not the press conference that I saw. I didn't hear any softballs, although I heard a lot of stupid questions. I guess you weren't around when the White House press was gushing over the naked George Bush, begging him to tell them where he got those sumptuous robes.

Posted by: rachel16 | June 23, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Press conferences are generally scripted, at least as far as who asks the questions, and what the topic is. I do wish Obama did things differently, but it's the norm, especially at the presidential level. I too would love to hear an explanation on the visitors' logs and the other secrecy issues. Maybe a little personal embarrassment mixed in with sustained protest will get this guy to change some of those policies (though I ain't holding my breath). It'd be satisfying to see him squirm a little, at least.

Despite disappointments like these, I have quite a bit more faith in the Obama administration than I did in the Bush. I think Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush were fundamentally dishonest about what they wanted to do and what they were actually doing, and they showed absolutely nothing but contempt for the public. Obama's shown the ability to lie, without any doubt. But I think he has far more genuine respect for the Constitution, for democracy, and for the people of this country, than those would-be autocrats.

So it's easier for me to look at disappointing and angering actions of this administration with a little more equanimity. Everything Cheney and Bush did, except for the decision to pursue the Taliban in Afghanistan, offended my every sensibility. That's not nearly the case with Obama.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 23, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

....and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries."
He gets it...I'm glad he made that comment.

Posted by: DD163 | June 23, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

President Obama shows through his thoughtful answers and his occasional retorts that he is so much smarter than the reporters. They act like junior high schoolers with no sense of history, no sense of context, no originality. Most of them anyway.

Posted by: YTYT | June 24, 2009 12:13 AM | Report abuse

"And I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries"

Precisely. We need to follow a policy that protects our interests, and recognizes that we must deal with other countries as they are (just as Bush daddy did with China in 1989). Fortunately Obama is not being as servile as Bush was back then (to Republicans' congratulations).

Obama could (it is good that he did not but the press MUST) point out that McCain sang 'bomb Iran' with the Republicans laughing. Can you imagine if McCain was now setting policy?!?

Posted by: AMviennaVA | June 24, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

The media is no match for Obama one on one. Then again, they weren't much of a match for Bush either.

Are they a match for anyone these days? Or would they get schooled by Miss South Carolina?

Posted by: elsid | June 24, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

to those people who still have faith in obama check out the people he has around him
he promised change if elected well how can he , he has mostly clinton people around him no flesh blood
out with old in with new.

he is full of crap we have been had by this smooth talking confidence man we will be lucky if we still have draws on by the time he gets through with us
going to call him barack madoff obama from now on

Posted by: bois1 | June 24, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The press corps sucks badly. I would love to see Obama do a round table with reporters and commentators for an hour with 10 minutes each on 6 subject areas, with followup questions from the "journalists" and "analysts". But why should he want to change the format when the press is so vapid and shallow that Obama can basically get away with platitudes and not have to answer tough follow up questions. Obama wins, but the public loses because he isn't forced to explain his stands on secrecy, preventive detention, escalating the war in Afghanistan, or inadequate banking regulation. For the record, I was an Obama supporter and even gave him $20 during the campaign, even though I vowed to never give money to politicians who won't commit to ending the totally counter productive "War on Drugs."

Posted by: srw3 | June 24, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

There is no doubt that the major media has given Obama a free ride. They don't investigate any of his claims about a revigorated economy, the silliness of his
health care plan (which changes daily) and his intent to raise everyone's taxes, not just those with incomes over $250,000, as
he promised in his campaign. The government run healthcare plan will drive the medical insurance companies out of business as they can't complete with a government company that can simply print more money as it is needed, When those companies go down, when businesses stop provide healthcare for their employeess, then the public debt will skyrocket or healthcare will have to be limited. We
will end up with a beaurocratic screening system to determine who gets what care and when.
The healthcare system needs to be revised and available to all, but it needs
a lot more study to get a reasonable and sensible solution. It is not something that can be tossed together in a couple of weeks as Obama wants. As with many of his numerous proposals, Obama doesn't seem to take the time to think out the long term consequences of his "dreams.' After all,
the man has absolutely no experience in any
economic, business, healthcare, foreaign affairs, education, manufacturing, etc. Yet,he thinks he has the answer to everything. Further, he chose a staff that was equally unqualified, escpecially in the economic area. His appointmens were the same people that caused the problems in the first place--Wall Street manipulators.

Posted by: depoulins | June 24, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Bush appeared in front of friendly crowds only, repressed demonstrations in "free speech zones", and had a gay prostitute plant in the WH press room named James Guckert/Jeff Gannon who lobbed soft ball questions a Bush such as "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

It turned out that Secret Service had been waving James Guckert by the guardhouse for two and a half years and once inside, he became Jeff Gannon. He wrote for a fake website, Talon News, run by Republican strategist Bobby Eberle and the organization GOPUSA.

Nico Pitney is no Jeff Guckert.

Posted by: NeilSagan | June 24, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The question about the woman killed in Iran could have been:

When you see the reocrded death of an individually killed woman, do you find that more affecting than a Pentagon report of some number of civilians killed by a Predator in Afganistan or Pakistan?

Posted by: dickdata | June 27, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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