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One Question To Obama, One Heck Of A Backlash

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One Question To Obama, One Heck Of A Backlash

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One Question To Obama, One Heck Of A Backlash

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A journalistic debate has erupted over a question that was asked of President Obama at yesterday's news conference.

Mr. NICO PITNEY (National Editor, Huffington Post): Under which condition would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working to achieve?

SIEGEL: NPR's David Folkenflik explains why that question has some White House reporters up in arms.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The Huffington Post's liberal blogger Nico Pitney has won a lot of acclaim for seeking out news from inside Iran despite intense restrictions on reporting there. On his blog, he presented links to video and photographs, and he relayed eyewitness accounts of the upheaval.

On Monday night, Pitney asked readers what questions the president should be asked about Iran and especially appealed to Iranians. A White House aide read his posting and told Pitney he might get a chance to pose the question directly.

Mr. PITNEY: So, once I heard that, I decided to really try and canvas as best I could to find as many questions as possible.

FOLKENFLIK: The questions spread throughout Twitter and was posted on a popular Persian-language social media site. Yesterday morning, a White House aide urged him to attend the news conference, and Pitney was whisked into the packed press room by a junior aide.

President BARACK OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?

FOLKENFLIK: Today, other reporters challenged White House spokesman Robert Gibbs over Pitney's moment. It's one thing to watch bloggers ask questions of the president, but the seeming orchestration was all too much for many, including the Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

Mr. DANA MILBANK (Reporter, Washington Post): It's sort of like reading his script, and then Pitney basically read his line of the script back, and this struck a lot of people there as very odd.

FOLKENFLIK: Milbank says he admires Pitney's recent work and even liked the question, but he says the collusion between the administration and the young journalist damages the press' independence.

Mr. MILBANK: It's more the question of the White House saying: Can they call up a journalist and say hey you from The Washington Post, you're going to ask about health care. Hey, you from CBS News, you're going to ask about Iraq. We just bristle at such attempts at stage managing.

Mr. OLIVIER KNOX (Agence France-Presse): Oh, I think that's taking it a little far.

Olivier Knox of Agence France-Presse covered the White House of President George W. Bush. He recognizes Milbank's concerns, but says Pitney wasn't compromised.

Mr. KNOX: I can tell you that during the Bush administration, I was occasionally told that I would get a question. They never knew, and in fact they never asked, what question I was asking.

FOLKENFLIK: The Huffington Post's Pitney says President Obama's aides never asked about his question, either, nor would he have told them. The media landscape may be shifting, but the blogger says he prizes his independence as much as any of his new rivals do.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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