During a segment on the “Reliable Sources” hour of CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, PBS’s Gwen Ifill and Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson agreed that it was fine for President Obama to call on Sam Stein of the Huffington Post at his first press conference, and that the correspondent’s left-wing question on a proposed “truth committee” investigation into the Bush administration was “perfectly reasonable.” Carlson also agreed with host Howard Kurtz’s assessment that the “White House press corps not exactly rolling over for the new president.” Her response: “Never do, do they?”
Ifill and Carlson participated in a panel discussion with The Washington Times’ White House correspondent Christina Bellantoni at the beginning of the 10 am Eastern hour of the CNN program. Kurtz brought up the topic of the first presidential news conference, and specifically, how Stein was one of the reporters who asked a question: “So is this a new era for bloggers, in terms of the White House recognition?”
Carlson first joked that Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington had “popped the champagne and cheered, because this is what bloggers have been waiting for, and he got it.” Ifill then interjected that Stein “had a perfectly reasonable question.” Carlson agreed, and continued that “Huffington Post is as much a player in this last campaign, and now in this White House coverage, as anybody.”
Kurtz then mentioned how The Huffington Post correspondent “asked a question about a proposal on Capitol Hill to start a truth and reconciliation commission to look into Bush-era wrongdoing.” Stein’s full question: “Today, Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that before you turn the page, you have to read the page first. Do you agree with such a proposal, and are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?” Obviously, this was a question from the Left.
Ifill then repeated her “reasonable” point: “I was interested to hear what the president had to say, which was not much, because it was off-topic, but it was perfectly reasonable to ask it. I would be a little crazier if it was a blogger who’d never covered anything, who just showed up and said, ‘You know, I was -- woke up this morning, thinking that, you know, I have a hangnail, Mr. President. Can you help me with that?’”
Bellantoni threw the “partisan card” in her take on the issue: “...[I]t would have been, maybe, a little bit more interesting if he had called on someone like, say, Salon, or a new media outlet that hadn’t just thrown a major party celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama.”
The CNN host followed-up on her point, and brought up how liberal talk show host Ed Schultz had also been present at the press conference. He asked if their had been criticism of Former President Bush if Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity had been present at one of his press conferences. Ifill agreed, while Carlson became defensive of The Huffington Post’s legitimacy.
KURTZ: Well, you raise an interesting point, because Huffington -- you know, a conservative blogger didn’t get a question. Huffington Post was just filled for two years with pro-Obama columns, and also the liberal radio host Ed Schultz was seated in the front row. He did not get a question. So I heard some people ask, ‘Well, what if George Bush had put Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity in front? Well, wouldn't there have been a lot of criticism?’
IFILL: Yes. There would have been a lot of criticism, no question.
CARLSON: The Huffington Post broke the story that stuck with Obama through the whole thing about the bitterness and the guns.
BELLANTONI: They’ve done -- they’ve done great work. There’s no question about that, and it’s nice to have that many broad outlets. I mean, Ana Marie Cox was there for Air America, as well, and I think that there's -- it’s good to have that many different types of people in the room. But you've got to call on them, too.
KURTZ: I wonder if conservatives will feel shut out.
Earlier in the segment, Kurtz played excerpts of reporters’ questions from the press conference, and commented that the “White House press corps not exactly rolling over for the new president.” Carlson’s reply:
CARLSON: Never do, do they? I can’t remember a time, except after 9/11, the press rolled over, but they don’t roll over for a new president, necessarily. What disappointed the press there, most of all, was that, unlike Bush, who gave short answers, and a lot of reporters got questions in, he gave tutorials. Those answers were long, and there were not as many questions in. So they have to adjust to a new standard.
That’s an interesting answer from Carlson, since she knows something about “rolling over.” After the 1992 election, she sucked up to George Stephanopoulos, who was about to become Bill Clinton’s communications director: “His too-good-to-be-true face looks out from a gallery of photos lining the wall of his parents’ apartment....Critics think the soft-spoken Stephanopoulos has insufficient heft to speak for the President; yet this brooding, dark presence has a quiet authority. His power whisper makes people lean in to him, like plants reaching toward the sun.”