Another Press Conference to Remind Us Why We Don’t Care About Press Conferences

Reporter CartoonAnother Presidential press conference, and yet another reason to observe why presidents (of any political stripe) aren’t fond of press conferences.   There isn’t much reason for the general public to get exercised about these press Q & A’s either.

The topics were fairly predictable: The Civil War in Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons — by someone, sometime;  Benghazi; Immigration and our diplomatic and agency relations with Mexico; The implementation of the Affordable Care Act; The Boston Marathon bombing; The Sequester and the FAA fix; Guantanamo; Jason Collins.  Yawn.

Notice that not a single one of these questions addresses the single most important topic of interest to Americans — jobs and the economy.  The economy is polled at 40%; Budget and the national debt comes in at 6%; Immigration at 4%; Gun Safety at 3%; Health Care at 3%; Terrorism at 3%; and an unspecified “other” at 34%.   So, where were the questions about our unemployment statistics? Manufacturing?  Trade relations and implications?  Job creation legislation?  The effect of the Sequester on the GDP?  Crickets.

A second item of note is that the questions concerning foreign policy (Syria, Benghazi) were derivative.  The “red line” question was productive, but the follow up on the tragedy in Benghazi concerned a claim by Republican operatives, with dubious reputations for accuracy, that diplomats were not available for public comments.  This came  from the GOP lawyer who once opined that Valerie Plame couldn’t be “outed” because she wasn’t an undercover operative for the CIA — a patently false statement, from a patently unreliable source.

The Boston Marathon and national security question was a classic example of White House Press Corps self referencing:

“…There is also a series of senators — Susan Collins, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham — who allege that all these years after 9/11, there still wasn’t enough intelligence shared prior to the attack.  And now, Lindsey Graham, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Benghazi and Boston are both examples of the U.S. going backwards on national security.  Is he right?  And did our intelligence miss something?”  [transcript]*

This must be what passes for research amongst members of the press elite — Senator Greenroom makes a comment on television, reporter watches the presentation, reporter asks the President (or other available public official) about Greenroom’s comments, the response is treated as “news.”

The reporter might have been able to answer her own inquiry had she some familiarity with the State Department’s annual terrorism report.  The report for 2011 is now available online.  It would seem that a person, supposedly adept in reporting national issues, would be aware of the annual reports and would know the reports are  statutorily mandated.

A more important question might have been raised about intelligence sharing had the questioner demonstrated a bit more nuanced understanding of the topic.  There could have been a question about both the possibility that the FBI and CIA are often loath to share information, the sharing of which would indirectly expose sources and methods — and another line of inquiry concerning the delicacy of cooperation with Russian police and intelligence sources.  How can we effectively and efficiently share information with the Russians without becoming a cat’s paw for Russian intentions in Chechnya, or without becoming entangled in Russian internal politics?  Or, on the other hand, without compromising Russian sources and methods when they are attempting to assist us?

Those lines of questioning died in the wake of the self-referential, inside the Beltway, Village approach to journalism.

Meanwhile back in the real world:  Not only was there not a single question about jobs and the economy, there were some other very obvious questions that weren’t voiced.

The current death toll in the factory collapse in Bangladesh now stands at 411.  The European Union is considering revising its standards for duty free and quota free trade from countries which do not implement and enforce work place safety regulations. [Reuters]  The U.S. Department of Commerce has not yet posted any comments on trade with countries with few, if indeed any, worker safety laws in evidence (May 1, 2013) — Question, Mr. President: Does the U.S. Department of Commerce intend to review our trade relations with nations which have very unimpressive implementation of worker safety regulations?  More crickets.

And, pertaining to gun safety?  How much more productive would it have been to avoid the realm of Theater Critics and observe that initial efforts to expand gun ownership background checks to gun shows and Internet sales failed (Didn’t you twist enough arms?) and to ask:  Mr. President — The Tsarnaev brothers were in possession of a 9mm Ruger semi-automatic hand gun, alleged to be the weapon that killed the MIT police officer, and we know that the older brother was placed on the Terrorist Watch List.  [GUK] Should we seek to close the gun show and Internet sale loopholes to preclude those who are on terrorist watch lists from obtaining firearms? Should we amend 18 USC 842 to include those on terrorist watch lists from legal possession of explosives?   If anyone with a computer can locate this information within a half hour from online sources, then why is the there such a paucity of background information on display during White House press conferences?

Nor did the White House press corps give evidence they’ve looked across the pond lately.  Eurozone unemployment has risen to a record high, and Italian unemployment is higher than it’s been in the past 20 years.  [IBT]  Question Mr. President:  With the current economic troubles in the Eurozone in mind, what implications might this have for U.S. manufacturing and service sector exports to Europe?  What would this mean for American workers?  Never asked.

In short, what we saw on our televisions was yet another unfortunate display of a Bubble Wrapped press corps, asking insider questions about insider issues.  And, all without so much as a nod to the economic problems besetting the American public — stagnant wages, continuing long term unemployment, increasing income disparity, and a still improperly regulated financial sector which gives no indication that they’ve learned anything from their last debacle in 2007-2008.  Crickets.

* the transcript link as of May 1, 2013 references another release, and if the link is corrected readers may have to click on the Speeches link on the website.

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