An outburst by a member of the mainstream media at the end of President Obama’s press conference Wednesday was applauded by his colleagues, in marked contrast to when a reporter for a conservative news outlet spoke out of turn during remarks by the president last June and then was widely condemned.
Bloomberg reporter Hans Nichols Wednesday breached long-established press conference decorum when he shouted a question to Obama after the president had clearly concluded the press conference. By custom, at a formal White House press conference, only those called on by the president are allowed to ask questions. Nichols’ outburst came just as Obama finished answering what he had decreed would be the final question of the proceedings.
Nichols is a respected member of the mainstream White House press corps and he asked a legitimate question – about the consequences of going over the “fiscal cliff” – but Obama refused to answer, remarking with a touch of irony, “it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out.”
Nichols colleagues have already applauded his effort. According to the blog FishbowlDC, which covers the Washington press corps, reporters for the New York Times were avidly supportive:
NYT’s Michael Shear seemed impressed: “In the ongoing battle for more access to the president, Hans Nichols is my new hero. Way to go.” And NYT‘s Peter Baker added, “Hear Hear.”
But when Neil Munro, a reporter for the conservative Daily Caller, shouted out a question to Obama while the president was speaking in the Rose Garden June 15, his effort was widely and even acerbically panned by his colleagues.
Munro arguably had a better excuse than Nichols. He said he thought the president was finished speaking, at which point shouted questions are fair game. Nichols knew he was speaking out of turn. What’s more, Munro, who asked about the effect of Obama’s immigration policy on U.S. workers, actually did extract something of a response from the president.
But instead of garnering applause for trying to query a president who had been assiduously avoiding questions from those who cover him, Munro was condemned and branded a liar.
Few accepted his explanation, even though anyone who has actually succeeding in asking a president a question in the Rose Garden knows that the effort has to be perfectly timed – right after the president finishes but before he can start making his way back to the Oval Office.
The White House Correspondents Association even considered taking some kind of official action, including “censure,” but decided against it. Daily Caller Editor in Chief Tucker Carlson was compelled to write a letter to the WHCA in an effort to keep his publication from being thrown off the “press pool” that has access to events that are not open to all reporters.