President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.
Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.
“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”
Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, William J. Lynn III, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder and staring him in the eye.
“Alright, come on” he said, with obvious irritation in his voice. “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys – that’s all I was trying to do.”
The president was quickly saved by a cameraman in the room who called out: “I’d like to say it one more time: ‘Mr. President.’ ”
Here’s the video:
Dogged by one member of the press corps, and rescued by another. All in a day’s work for our new President.
Washington, DC? Meet The Chicago Way.
Related: Media frustration spills into briefing:
A growing media frustration with Barack Obama’s team spilled into the open at Thursday’s briefing, with reporters accusing the White House of stifling access to his oath re-do and giving Obama’s first interview as president to a multi-million dollar inauguration sponsor.
Veteran CBS newsman Bill Plante was one of the most vocal critics, questioning the White House’s handling of Wednesday night’s second swearing in – which was covered by just a four-reporter print pool that didn’t include a news photographer or TV correspondent.
He also asked new press secretary Robert Gibbs why ABC, which paid millions to host the DC Neighborhood Ball, was granted the only inauguration day interview with President Obama – a move he equated to “pay to play.”
“We have a tradition here of covering the president,” said Plante, who is covering his fourth administration.
Gibbs defended the White House’s moves, insisting aides acted in a “way that was upfront and transparent” in allowing the standard pool into the swearing-in. And Obama himself seemed mindful of making a good impression, paying a surprise visit to the White House pressroom a few hours after the briefing.
It’s been a bumpy 24 hours for Gibbs and company, as members of the White House press corps have publicly expressed frustration with an administration promising openness and transparency.
In recent weeks, New York Times editors complained that its White House team hadn’t gotten a sit-down with Obama during the transition, breaking an unofficial tradition whereby recent president-elects have free-wheeling exchanges with the Gray Lady before the inauguration.
In the case of the second swearing-in, however, it seemed to give reporters a chance to lay down an early marker on questioning whether Obama would live up to one of his key campaign pledges, at least when it comes to the media.
“It is ironic, the same day that the president is talking about transparency, we were not let in,” CNN’s Ed Henry said on the air Wednesday night after news of the second swearing-in broke.
Henry’s main gripe was that television reporters weren’t permitted to cover a historic moment, when Obama once again raised his right hand and took the oath before Justice John Roberts. The only images came from White House photographer Pete Souza.
Three wire services — The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse – refused to move those images, in protest of the White House’s handling of the event.
The wire services’ photographers were also denied access to photograph Obama sitting in the Oval Office on the first day, and similarly refused to move the White House approved photos.
Michael Oreskes, the AP’s managing editor for U.S. news, told his own news outlet that “we are not distributing what are, in effect, visual press releases.”
My my … sounds like a little trouble in paradise. The same mainstream media that gave Obama complete run of the place while a candidate is now suddenly upset that he wants things to stay that way as President. What a shame.