During his press conference announcing new Education Secretary designate Arne Duncan on Tuesday, Barack Obama lectured Chicago Tribune reporter John McCormick "I don’t want you to waste your question" when he tried to press the President-elect on whether Obama told the truth when he said they were taking a "very hands-off approach" to his Senate replacement. (Video here.)
Media liberals noticed how much this sounds like their nominee for Worst President Ever, but they’re already arguing that criticizing Obama for lecturing the press for tough questions is premature. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, reporter/columnist Dana Milbank took issue with Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard: "Obama has proved himself to be far more willing to take questions than Bush, and if he makes good on his promise to release the full account of his aides' Blagojevich ties -- even on Christmas Eve -- it will be a major improvement in transparency over the current administration."
But in the Bush years, reporters didn’t give Bush a two-week window to determine whether he was stiff-arming the press. Surprisingly, someone was standing up for the idea of maintaining the press’s role to ask uncomfortable questions. Michael Calderone of Politico quickly noticed NBC Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker said that reporters have not been aggressive enough during Obama's post-election pressers. "Our job is to hold him to account," Whitaker said, adding that he thinks "we're going to have to get tougher." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter followed up: "We need the Sam Donaldsons of the world."
Here’s the way the exchange unfolded:
OBAMA: John McCormick?
McCORMICK: Thank you, Mr. President-Elect. First of all, given the situation here in Illinois, do you favor or oppose a special election to fill your -- your vacancy, and secondly, you told us at your first press conference after the election that you were going to take a very hands-off approach to filling that spot. Over the weekend, The Tribune reported that Rahm Emanuel, your incoming chief of staff, had presented a list of potential names...
OBAMA: John, let me -- let me -- let me just cut you off, because I don't want you to waste your question. As I indicated yesterday, we've done a full review of this. The -- the facts are going to be released next week. It would be inappropriate for me to comment, because the -- the -- for example, the -- the story that you just talked about in your own paper, I haven't confirmed that it was accurate, and I don't want to get into the details at this point. So do you have another question?
McCORMICK: There's no conflict between what you said was your hands-off approach and the possibility that --
OBAMA: John --
McCORMICK: – aides presented somebody --
OBAMA: John. I said -- The U.S. attorney's office specifically asked us not to release this until next week.
McCORMICK: What about on a special election? Given the kind of chaos here in Illinois? (LAUGHTER)
OBAMA: You know, I've said that I don't think the governor can serve effectively in his office. I'm going to let the state legislature make a determination in terms of how they want to proceed.
McCORMICK: Do you or Duncan have a better jump shot?
OBAMA: Duncan, much better. That one's an easy one.