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History's greatest monster

History's greatest monster

I thought I might just quote Jason Zengerle on the folks hating on the White House’s semi-coordinated back-and-forth with the Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney:

Pitney solicited questions from Iranians that they wanted to ask Obama. The White House made sure Pitney got a chance to ask one of the questions–without knowing what the question would be. And, as I’ve pointed out, it was a very good and tough question–a question that Obama answered (or failed to answer) in a way that made him look bad. Yes, the whole arrangement was a violation of Washington protocol, but then the uprest in Iran–and the way news of that uprest is being spread over the Internet–is a violation of protocol as well, isn’t it? If Obama wanted to take a question about Iran from an actual Iranian, the only way he could do so was to call on a member of the media who has a direct line to Iranians–and that’s Pitney. It’s not like he asked Obama “Why are you so awesome?” (or “Have you really quit smoking?”). It seems like the focus should be whether the question was good and whether we learned anything useful from the response Obama gave to it. I’d say yes on both counts, so this really shouldn’t be a controversy.

This is, note, the second time a HuffPo reporter has asked a question at a White House press conference, asked a question that was a lot more substantive and interesting than many of the questions from the old-school media, and then prompted a freak-out. I think it would be worth asking who would be better off had that exchange not taken place and Obama instead called on someone else. I’m having trouble finding the answer.

The reality is that there’s a lot of status anxiety among the special class of reporters who do things like attend White House press conferences. In my experience, the kind of reporters who conduct in-depth investigations or write long features or correspond from war zones are facing a lot of economic anxiety about the continued stability of their careers. But the kind of reporters who basically sit around and in virtue of the fact that their employers are important get to ask not-very-interesting questions of powerful politicians and then dutifully write the answers down (or record the answers on tape and have an intern transcribe them) are facing a kind of crisis of prestige and authority. It turns out lots of people can do the job perfectly well, even people who haven’t “paid their dues” or gotten a job at an established media outlet.


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