In the appropriately-titled "Media Backtalk" chat on August 21, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz defended a fellow reporter's self-described "smart-assed" remark to President Bush about adviser Karl Rove's political acumen.
Kurtz defended CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante's August 13 question as "the Sam Donaldson technique of trying to get the president and top aides to say something, anything at a scripted event where they are determined not to respond to reporters."
"If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?" Plante shouted to President Bush at an August 13 White House news gaggle. Three days later, Plante defended his question in a CBSNews.com interview saying:
I knew that what I did on Monday was smart-assed, but I think that that’s beside the point. Our asking questions should not be dependent on what the White House thinks the mood or the tone of an event should be.
Here's the Q&A from the August 21 online chat at washingtonpost.com:
New York: Bill Plante has characterized his own question to President Bush at last Monday's Rove announcement as "smart-assed" (CBS Public Eye 16 Aug) but then says there is a need to aggressively push the right to ask questions at the White House. I agree with the right to ask questions, but I think his particular "question" had very little value and was more of a personal comment phrased as a question.
I might add that as far back as 1988, I personally observed Plante on a number of occasions, sitting in a chair in the first row of the traveling press pool about 15 feet in front of President Reagan's lectern. As the president was giving a speech, Plante would deliberately and conspicuously put his glasses on, cross his legs, fully open up a newspaper, and read. Plante has the right to be a boor, but do you think he is abusing the special access that is afforded to White House reporters?
washingtonpost.com: Plante's Question (second-to-last item) (washingtonpost.com, Aug. 15)
Howard Kurtz: In a word, no. Plante's was a shouted question, after Rove appeared with the president to announce his resignation and neither man took questions. "If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?" Plante asked. This is the Sam Donaldson technique of trying to get the president and top aides to say something, anything at a scripted event where they are determined not to respond to reporters. I'm sure some people find the practice rude, and it rarely succeeds, but Plante is hardly a groundbreaker in this regard.
When Plante has asked questions of presidents and press secretaries at briefings and news conferences, I have found them to be aggressive and substantive, but not overly confrontational.