Washington Heat Forces News Conference Inside
DAVID GREENE, host:
Now, if you watched this news conference yesterday, you might have noticed that things looked a little different than the previous ones. It was supposed to be Mr. Obama's first news conference in the Rose Garden but it was moved indoors because of the heat in the nation's capital. And it was held in the very cramped confines of the White House Briefing Room. The atmosphere inside, of course, also generated its own kind of heat.
And joining us to talk about this and the evolving relationship between President Obama and the media is NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So there was all this talk of this being out in the Rose Garden. And the president's first outside - what happened? Why the change of venue?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was a beautiful, sunny day in Washington and it would have been quite a scene, you know, with the Rose Garden and the Obama children's playground in the back, but the mid-day sun might have had the TV correspondents and the president drenched in their makeup and so there was concern about camera angles as well. Camera angles, especially from the side, that may have made the president look very much like he was not a cool guy, especially under pressure of questioning from the Press Corp.
GREENE: I remember a lot of those sweaty occasions out in the Rose Garden. I'm sure a lot of people weren't unhappy about moving in. So we're five months into this presidency now, and based on what you saw yesterday, is it fair to say that the reporters at the White House are starting to get a little restless?
WILLIAMS: I think that's right, David. You know, previous press conferences really feature President Obama in total masterful control of the press. He was professorial, masterfully kind of explaining things as if he was lecturing his students. Yesterday, less formality, much more give and take, with reporters pursuing the president and lots of follow ups.
Major Garrett of Fox News, one question saying, what took you so long in terms of condemning the Iranian regime? Jake Tapper of ABC following up, and then President Obama having to ask him if he's the ombudsmen for the White House Press Corp. There was this sense of insistence that the president lay out, for example, what he would do to punish the Iranian regime.
And the president responded by getting testy and saying, I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle, but I'm not. And of course you heard in the earlier report where he says, what do you think? In response to a question about whether or not he was simply reacting to criticism coming from Republican senators.
So even when it came to the issue of health care, the president was pressed time and again to explain the public option and found himself going on at length and feeling a little frustrated, is what I sensed, in listening to him.
GREENE: If we look back during the spring, I mean President Obama spoke at a couple black tie dinners for correspondents and he was kidding the journalists, you know, helped to get him elected, was he sort of goading them at that point?
WILLIAMS: You know, I think it was just a matter of feeling overly confident. You know, just last Friday night at the radio and television correspondents dinner, he said that he had a problem, he's thinking it over, and rolled over to ask Brian Williams, the NBC lead anchor, what he thought he should do.
And of course, previously he said that, you know, why hang out with celebrities when he can hang out with the people who made him one, again, referring to the press in a very, I think, derisive tone. And earlier, he said simply, that the press had all voted for him.
So that allowed critics on the right to say here is a president who feels that the press is just falling down around his ankles, doing nothing, and not being properly adversarial. I think the press feels that - the White House Press Corps feels - as if they're being taken and now is rising up and showing a little gumption.
GREENE: Indeed, I mean, let's talk about where this president is in the brief time that we have left. And we have the Iranian election crisis. We've got some weaker economic news. We've been seeing Republicans, it seems like, getting some traction on health care issues. I mean is the opposition starting to firm up and really present a tough case against the new White House?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think you can see it in the polls, David. What you see now is that the deficit and the question about whether or not the deficit would create more opportunities for tax hikes and inflation is becoming a big concern for the American people. Not popular to have bailed out General Motors. Questions about whether or not Guantanamo Bay should be closed by January. These are potential pitfalls, politically speaking, for the president and the press is picking up on it.
GREENE: All right, Juan, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for speaking to us.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, David.
GREENE: That's NPR News Analyst Juan Williams.
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