Presidents are free to stage their conversations with the American people however they choose. But some members of the White House press corps, including CBS’ Chip Reid and press room fixture Helen Thomas, are among those upset that this President is using stage-managed “Town Hall” events as pretend press conferences.
President Obama’s hug for the cancer victim, an Obama volunteer, gets the media attention, but of the seven questions he addressed, four were selected by his staff from groups supportive of his health care agenda, including the Service Employees International Union and Health Care for America Now. One of the questioners came from a group that is a part of the Democratic National Committee.
At the Town Hall, Obama waved hugged Debby Smith, who said she had kidney cancer and had been unable to get insurance, saying, “I don’t want you to feel like you’re all alone.” He promised help and offered her as the “perfect example” of the sufferer his efforts are intended to help.
It’s fair enough for Presidents to hold Town Hall meetings and to pretend that he’s taking questions from something other than an infomercial audience. But it is phony, the stuff of campaign commercials. The White House press corps is right to challenge the pretense that a legitimate give-and-take represented as a news event is being held when it’s a sham.