On presidents and shouting questions

The president practices eye-contact avoidance.              (ap)

It's a hoary cliche of movies and television shows about the White House: A clamoring press corps, jostling and barking questions at the president. In real life, that doesn't happen much.

Before going into the Oval Office, a Cabinet meeting or other tight presidential event, reporters generally know already whether the president plans to take questions. Getting him to spontaneously answer one he hadn't planned on is trickier, and that involves a shouted question. It's more a lone-gunman thing than the groupish clamor depicted in popular culture, and it demands a certain blustery finesse.

For presidents, answering is matter of personal style. President Bush loathed the shouted question and would more often bestow a sour look than an answer. After a while, White House reporters didn't bother unless the news was so huge that not even trying to ask could be a firing offense. But in eight years, Bush probably bit on shouted questions fewer than a dozen times.

President Obama is sometimes game for shouted questions. Whether he responds seems to depend on a combination of his mood and the topic. On Monday, he ignored efforts by reporters to draw him out on Afghan elections. On Tuesday, he said, “Good try” to a reporter shouting one about the elections. Today, he twice ignored shouted questions about whether he endorses the House version of the health care reform bill.

In September, at the end of a Cabinet meeting, he got a shouted question about whether he accepted Rep. Joe Wilson's apology for calling him a liar during an address to Congress. Obama said he did and actually talked about it for a few minutes.

On other occasions, the president has been led off-topic to make news by a shouted question, so invariably reporters keep trying. It's still early days in the Obama administration, but he doesn't seem to mind it too much. Frustrated reporters also haven't had much of a crack at asking him anything lately — Obama's last press conference was in July.

In othe Oval today after meeting with President Ian Khama of Botswana, Obama was asked by Major Garrett of Fox News whether he was “yes or no” on the House bill. Obama demurred.

“Always gotta try, Mr. President,” Garrett said.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Obama responded, smiling.

 

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