White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held a briefing on Air Force One Monday in which he refused to answer a single question.
Over the course of the 14 minute session, the press corps aboard President Obama’s flight to Michigan asked 15 questions and received zero answers. Even on minor matters.
While White House press secretaries routinely dodge questions from the press, I’m not sure I can remember a briefing in which there weren’t any direct answers.
The failure to provide information is starkly at odds with the White House proclamation that the president is presiding over the “openness administration.” Rather, it shows a certain contempt for the role of the Fourth Estate, which is tasked with helping preserve freedom by ferreting information out of the government and sharing it with the public.
It is particularly surprising that Carney would treat the press in this manner, given his own background as having been for years one of Washington’s top political reporters. While it’s possible he is following orders from above, Carney actually seems strongly allegiant to the White House and President Obama – a true believer who has shed the skepticism bred into most good reporters.
What follows is an abridged version of the briefing. I’ve kept only Carney’s direct responses to the questions. Note I say “responses” and not “answers” – Carney did in fact open his mouth to speak. I’ve removed the verbiage added by Carney, also known as spin, that is essentially unrelated to the questions. Some of the questions have been shortened as well. But in no way is any of this out of context.
Q What progress can you report from yesterday’s meeting between the President and the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm that there was a meeting and that lines of communication remain open, but I cannot characterize the talks or conversations beyond that.
Q Are there any other one-on-one meetings on the schedule for this week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, I don’t preview meetings or conversations . . .
Q Jay, is the President any more or less confident of a deal being reached before the end of the year after yesterday’s meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I won’t characterize yesterday’s meeting or other conversations . . .
Q What is the harm in telling the public simply whether we’re better off today than yesterday? That kind of generic update on whether we’re making progress.
MR. CARNEY: Because our interest is in seeing if we can reach an agreement and not trying to negotiate an agreement through the media . . .
Q Do you agree with the assessment that it’s up to the White House to make the next move?
MR. CARNEY: I can simply say that the lines of communication are open . . .
Q Are you considering making a counter offer to the Speaker’s offer?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to characterize the conversations that we’re having . . .
Q Jay, will the President weigh in on the Michigan right-to-work case while he’s here?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to preview the President’s remarks . . .
Q Yesterday, the Speaker repeated what some others have said, that the President is slow-walking this, trying to build pressure on the Republicans and wants it to get up to the last minute. How do you respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we have yet to see more than a sentence of specificity from the Republicans on the issue of revenue . . .
Q Jay, does the President think there’s any real risk to either the economy or to consumer confidence if this debate runs right up against — right up to New Year’s Eve?
MR. CARNEY: You’re trying to create a situation where I’m naming a deadline, and I’m not going to do that. The tax cuts —
Q — as long as it gets done on time, is that sufficient?
MR. CARNEY: That’s market analysis that I can’t do . . .
Q New topic. There is a very important “Friends of Syria” meeting this week, as you know, in Morocco. The U.S. has been moving in the direction of helping to build up the Syrian opposition, and there has been a lot of talk that maybe this is the moment for the United States to formally recognize the opposition. What’s the White House’s view on that? And do you believe that the time has come to recognize the opposition, and would that be an important step to resolving the terrible situation in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any previews for you of the meeting that you mention, which is important, except to say that we continue to be committed to the proposition that Syria’s future needs to be decided by the Syrian people . . .
Q Has the President talked to the family of the SEAL team member that had been killed in the raid?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a readout of any conversations of the President . . .
Q Quick one on the trip today. How would you describe the connection between where we’re headed, the President’s comments today, and the need to get a deal done on the fiscal cliff?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President — again, without previewing his comments, remains focused on his number-one priority, which is helping this economy grow, making the kind of decisions that enable it to grow and enable it to create jobs.
And the automobile industry is an important piece of that policy approach . . .
Q Can I ask one question about the facility we’re going to? . . . I’m just wondering about the symbolism of going to a Daimler-owned facility given Daimler’s rather checkered history in Detroit. It’s not a particularly happy story.
MR. CARNEY: In terms of one company’s past, I don’t really have a comment on that . . .
Q Is the President getting any closer to deciding who he wants at the State Department and Defense Department?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the opportunity to say that I have no personnel announcements to make today.
And after this, the reporters on hand, instead of fuming with outrage, meekly expressed appreciation for their odious treatment.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: You bet. Good to see all of you.