Has Barack Obama abolished the press conference?
by Keith Koffler on May 4, 2012, 11:07 am
Obama has held just one full length, multi-topic, solo press conference
in the last six months, effectively abolishing the most accessible
venue for American citizens to observe the thinking and learn the views
of their leader.
It’s May, and the president has stood for only a
single such news conference this year, a March 6 event in the briefing
room. He’s had only three since last June, counting a November press
conference in Hawaii that was supposed to be devoted to the just-held
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit but which veered off into other
Nor does Obama generally allow questioning during brief
appearances at the White House, such as when he makes statements with
foreign leaders. Previous presidents, including George W. Bush,
routinely took a couple of questions on the topic of the day at such
also held fewer press conferences than he should have. But this doesn’t
excuse Obama, who would seem especially obligated to appear before the
press given his pledges to maintain an “openness” administration.
the White House does its best to control access to Obama, presenting
him to local and sometimes national reporters in “one-on-one” settings.
these sessions occasionally do make news, they are poor substitute for
formal press conferences. The local reporters are often not as well
versed in the subtleties of national and international news as White
House reporters and are more likely to be intimidated when suddenly
finding themselves sitting in the White House interviewing the
And whether local or national reporters, those granted
one-on-one interviews often aren’t given much time to probe –
particularly with Obama’s longish answers – and so are incentivized to
stick to their few prepared questions and “get them in” before time runs
out. And a special invitation to interview the president is such a
coveted coup for any news organization that there is enormous incentive
to tread lightly for fear of never being invited back again while
watching your competitors be welcomed instead.
And of course, the audience for each of these sessions is limited.
conferences are extraordinarily important for several reasons. A number
of questions are asked on different topics. The pressure of being on
national TV forces the president to explain his thinking. The public
gets to actually see the president think and understand how he comes to
his conclusions, an invaluable public service.
What’s more, the
prospect of a press conference forces the White House to think through
its own views. Everybody in the West Wing, including the president, has
to stop and consider just what they are doing and why. Often the
agencies are mined for answers about current policies so that White
House aides can prepare the president, giving the West Wing valuable
feedback about what’s going on.
Of course, Obama has switched
almost fully from governing to campaigning. So maybe the need for a West
Wing gut check has declined, since policy is mostly being made not in
Washington but in Chicago. The home, of course, of the Obama 2012
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