CNN's John Roberts Hails Jeff Zeleny's 'Enchanted' Question: 'Good Job, Jeff!'

New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny gained new fans for his goofy "enchanted" softball question at Wednesday night's press conference. On Thursday's American Morning on CNN, former White House reporter John Roberts proclaimed "Good job, Jeff!" and strangely compared Zeleny's Obama softball to Bush hardballs in 2004 pressing him to confess his greatest mistakes. Roberts cited former Time magazine writer John Dickerson -- and forgot he asked a similar hardball in the same press conference.

The only similarity in these questions is they knocked the president "off his talking points." That, and they both betray a liberal bias. Here's the exchange between Roberts and his morning co-anchor Kiran Chetry:

ROBERTS: Yes, the great thing about that question was is he didn't have one talking point to go to to answer it. So he was really forced to think about his answers. He was very thoughtful about it as well.

CHETRY: And I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking as a White House correspondent, right? And you're sitting there and you know you have one shot and you rarely get a follow-up, right? Unless you sort of just try to throw it in.

ROBERTS: The Bush administration, you got none.

CHETRY: And here too, even the mike's gone. So you can hear somebody shouting something. So how do you decide what to ask?

ROBERTS: Well, you can either try to make news. Right? Or you can try to ask a question for which they have no talking points. Try to throw the president off his talking points and get a real answer, and I think Jeff Zeleny did that last night. It was really interesting.

That's the most interesting question that's been asked at a presidential press conference since 2004 John Dickerson from -- I guess he was with "Time" back then -- stood up and said, Mr. President, can you tell us what your biggest mistake is? And George Bush said -- can't think of anything right now.

CHETRY: There was awkward silence.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: Of course, that's one of those historical moments.

ROBERTS: But those are those interesting moments in those press conferences. So good job, Jeff.

Let's revisit Brent Baker's coverage in the Cyber Alert of April 14, 2004. Here is Dickerson's hardball:

“In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?”

But he asked only one of a series of hardballs. Here was John Roberts, then with CBS:

 “Two weeks ago, a former counter-terrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one?”

And, for contrast, notice the vast difference between Jeff Zeleny in 2009 and Elisabeth Bumiller of the same liberal newspaper in 2004:

“To move to the 9/11 Commission, you yourself have acknowledged in the, that Osama bin Laden was not a central focus of the administration in the months before September 11th. ‘I was not on point,’ you told the journalist Bob Woodward. ‘I didn’t feel that sense of urgency.’ Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?”

That's not a hardball. That's a beanball. Admit personal responsibility for 9/11? At least in 2004, the media realized that the questions to Bush were loaded with political danger, that his answers could be used against him by John Kerry and the Democrats in the campaign to come. See ABC:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “Well, I think they want to see some concession of responsibility by the President, and just that, you know, listen, I’m not perfect, there might have been a mistake there, and, you know, I understand why a President wouldn’t want to apologize or admit a mistake in any way. It becomes a trap.

PETER JENNINGS: Because it would be a banner headline for the opposition party.

Wouldn't that underline that the media see their objective as providing banner headlines for the Democrats?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis