The New Transparency: Shutting Out Reporter Who Asks Tough Questions
By now, every political wonk that doesn’t live under a rock–and probably a few that do–has seen the video of WFAA’s Brad Watson asking tough questions of Obama.
Now comes the fallout (emphasis added):
On Twitter on Tuesday morning, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer took the bait by responding to the interview, which had been bouncing around the beltway echo chamber for hours.
The White House often expects the toughest questions from reporters outside of Washington, not the easiest, Pfeiffer tweeted.
The problem: The reporter’s questions weren’t particularly difficult, but they were clearly not what Obama was expecting. The result was a viral video that depicted Obama as angry when faced with tough questioning. And it unveiled some of the degree to which the White House would like to control its message.
Pfeiffer was asked by Time reporter Michael Scherer, “So will WFAA’s Brad Watson get another interview one day?”
Instead of quickly taking the high road, Pfeiffer suggested that Watson may truly be out in the cold after irritating the president. And he did it by revealing yet another trick of Washington communications: playing one news outlet against its rival.
“Right around the time we do our next interview with @TIME. I am kidding … or am I. @Newsweek is on the other line,” Pfeiffer responded.
The main problem with this is that if you shut out every reporter that asks a tough question, pretty soon all the reporters will toss you nothing but softballs. Now, that’s probably what the Obama White House wants, but if all the questions lobbed at Obama are softballs, especially in the runup to his reelection campaign, he’s likely to get the reputation of not being able to handle a tough question, and that can’t be good for his chances.
On the other hand, if they start letting reporters ask him tough questions, he runs the double risk of letting his thin skin show, as he did this time, and also of being asked, “why isn’t Brad Watson allowed another interview?” the answer to which would be embarrassing.
In short, it was a bad performance, and an even worse follow-up. But about par for the Obama White House we’ve come to know and dislike.