Milbank and HuffPoster Heatedly Debate Press Conference Plants

As NewsBusters' Tim Graham reported, the Obama administration planted Huffington Post blogger Nico Pitney to ask a question at Tuesday's press conference.

The following day, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank also took the White House to task for this shameful episode. 

On Sunday's "Reliable Sources," Milbank and Pitney had a rather heated debate about what transpired that included, according to Pitney, the WaPoer calling him a "d**k" (video embedded below the fold with transcript):

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: A presidential news conference usually proceeds from the AP reporter, to the network correspondents, to the major newspaper writers. But President Obama set off plenty of chatter at this week's presser by giving the second question to a "Huffington Post" blogger. It wasn't just the selection of Nico Pitney -- Obama has called on "The Huffington Post" before -- but the way the president seemed to invite a particular question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and across the Internet we've been seeing a lo 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?

NICO PITNEY, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, I did. But I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.

"Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad..."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: All right.

Nico Pitney, you said the White House notified you that you would probably get a question at the news conference. Everyone assumes what we just saw was orchestrated.

PITNEY: No. From beginning to end, there was no planning involved. I was the one who posted that I was going to be soliciting -- that I was soliciting questions from Iranians. I chose the question.

The reason President Obama made that comment is because he was trying to make a point that he was taking a question from an Iranian. And it's interesting that Dana, of all people, wrote this column very negatively. I mean, this is a person, Dana, who, when he had a chance to ask Obama a question, he approached him in the hall during the campaign and asked him not one, but multiple questions about how he looked in a bathing suit.

I mean, that to me is pathetic, and I would -- you couldn't stage manage me into that, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Well, Nico has some -- evidently, some very interesting things to do.

What I have never done in my life, Howie, is worked in collusion with an administration, whether it's this one or another one. I believe that whether it's Nico Pitney, with "The Huffington Post," or whether it's Carl Cameron, with Fox News, the White House should not be calling somebody the night before saying, we are going to call on you if you ask a question on a particular subject asked in a certain way.

PITNEY: But I was...

MILBANK: Nico, the night before, sent out an e-mail to his colleagues -- "Some big news. The White House called earlier this evening and asked if I could ask a question of President Obama at his press conference tomorrow on behalf of an Iranian. I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. It seems fairly like that this will happen, but as they told me, this is not 100 percent."

PITNEY: This is exactly as I described it. I posted an initial solicitation.

MILBANK: At the request of the White House.

PITNEY: No.

MILBANK: No, it says right here in your e-mail that that's what you did.

PITNEY: No, it doesn't. In fact, it's exactly what I wrote...

MILBANK: "I'm about to post a solicitation to the blog Facebook, Twitter," after hearing from the White House.

PITNEY: Facebook, Twitter, exactly. So, my solicitation was merely over e-mail.

When I found out that the White House was going to potentially take this question, I went to a Farsi language social network site, to Twitter using a Farsi message, to Facebook. I tried to -- if I was going to have that opportunity, I was going to canvass as many Iranians as possible.

MILBANK: That's fine.

PITNEY: So it is -- and, you know, for -- this is someone -- Dana's column...

KURTZ: Do you think there's some jealousy involved by maybe the establishment in the fact that you got that very prominent second question?

PITNEY: Oh, I mean, I think it's jealousy. I think it's hypocrisy.

You know, Dana wrote a column, as his colleague at "The Washington Post," Greg Sargent, pointed out, hailing the "Mission Accomplished" banner moment in May, 2003, the day after.

MILBANK: What?

PITNEY: I mean, it's...

MILBANK: Look, there's plenty of fiction here, but I brought some other -- shall we go through the record here, Nico?

PITNEY: Go through what record? MILBANK: Your Web site was complaining about I was not holding the Bush White House to account. I'd like to say that here's a full list of documentation of me holding the Bush White House to account.

PITNEY: Well, I'm not sure where...

MILBANK: Your colleagues at "The Huffington Post."

Let's pose -- can we just pose one question, Nico? If the White House called up Fox News and said, "Major Garrett, we will call on you tomorrow if you ask a question about health care, and you ask it in a certain way?" Would you say that's OK?

PITNEY: They didn't say in a certain way. See, this is dishonest. And it's been dishonesty and errors from the beginning.

Your initial piece on this posted an hour after the press conference, had two errors, which you acknowledged to me an e-mail. You said you had corrected them. It took seven hours.

MILBANK: Is that right, Nico?

PITNEY: And the signal is you are very quick to malign and very slow to correct.

MILBANK: Look, Howie, I can't deal with fiction on this show. I mean...

KURTZ: All right. I'm going to -- you two are going to have to take this outside, because I want to get Amanda Carpenter in.

As an interesting sidebar, Pitney is claiming Milbank called him a d**k.

As a result, this story is likely far from over...stay tuned.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.