Slate's John Dickerson bungles his WH press conference history

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Riffing off the Nico Pitney kerfuffle, Dickerson writes:

What's new about this little press conference episode is not the arrangement but the context. The White House arranges things all the time with reporters. It just doesn't usually happen during a press conference. (The Jeff Gannon incident was the exception that proves the rule.)

And therein lies the problem--the double standard--with traditional journalists jumping all over Pitney and his crowdsourcing involvement in Obama's press last week. The problem is that when Bush "arranged things" during press conferences, the same press corps never said boo.

From Lapdogs [emphasis added]:

At one point while making his way through the press questioners, Bush awkwardly referred to a list of reporters who he was instructed to call on. "This is scripted," he joked. The press laughed. But Bush meant it was scripted, literally. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later admitted he compiled Bush's cheat sheet, which made sure he did not call on reporters from some prominent outlets like Time, Newsweek, USA Today, or The Washington Post.

Yet even after Bush announced the event was "scripted," reporters, either embarrassed for Bush or embarrassed for themselves, continued to play the part of eager participants at a spontaneous news conference, shooting their hands up in the air in hopes of getting Bush's attention. For TV viewers it certainly looked like an actual press conference.

During perhaps his most important press conference as president (i.e. the one right before the invasion of Iraq), Bush made clear that the performance was scripted; that he had a pre-determined list of reporters who would and would not get called on. Yet in the wake of that "scripted" performance, virtually nobody within the press corps raised any objections.

That's why the current chorus rings a bit hollow.

UPDATE: Dickerson only makes matters worse when he writes:

There are members of the traditional press who concede that there is a symbiotic relationship between the White House and its press corps—but they're still bothered by this episode because it took place at a press conference, which turned the other reporters into props.

Reporters-as-props when Obama does it = bad. Reporters-as-props when Bush did it = irrelevant.

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