Dana Milbank wasn't the only Beltway Villager all wanked out about President Obama prearranging a question with HuffPo's Nico Pitney yesterday. On Meet the Press, David Gregory pressed David Axelrod about it, suggesting that somehow this sort of thing is anti-democratic:
MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Did the White House coordinate with a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: The White House didn't coordinate with the reporter about a question, we were looking for a way to get questions from within Iran. We could--we did not have access to Iranian journalists.
MR. GREGORY: So you talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you ask a question about--from--directly from Iran at a press conference?"
MR. AXELROD: We said if you--we, we, we, we, we knew that he had been and he was very publicly involved in getting--in trafficking and communications in and out of Iran, and we felt it was important...
MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy around the world?
MR. AXELROD: No, no, David, you miss...
MR. GREGORY: Is that, is that what you should do at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: You're not, you're not listening to what I said. We didn't coordinate with, with him about what was asked.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: In fact, he asked probably one of the most--the toughest and most probing questions at that press conference. We had no idea what he was going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: But you coordinated with him about, about that subject of a question beforehand.
MR. AXELROD: He was a, he was a, he was a, he was a vehicle to get questions from Iran asked at this press conference, and that we thought was not only appropriate but, but necessary.
MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats would have said that's outrageous?
Gregory is a Beltway Villager, and like all such folk, he wants to cling to the well-honed myths that preserve their favorite fictions about themselves. One of these is that White House press conferences are actually exercises in democratic, even egalitarian questioning of government officials by the people's representatives in the press corps.
So they are loathe to admit a simple reality: White House press conferences are in cold reality carefully stage-managed affairs, and the main beneficiaries of this arrangement have been the handful of "elite" reporters from big-name media outlets who traditionally have dominated them.
We're perfectly aware that presidents have for some long time gone into these conferences with a prearranged list of reporters upon whom they are going to call. The result has been an immense trivialization of press conferences, because those "elite" reporters have demonstrated over the years their eagerness to indulge trivial, celebrity-media-driven questions at the expense of serious policy matters. In the process, they've become increasingly manipulable.
This trend reached its apotheosis back when Jeff Gannon was lobbing softball questions to President Bush and White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Not only was Gannon a phony journalist, he was being regularly selected to be among the main questioners at the daily briefings.
Considering that this same White House never came clean on exactly why it issued credentials to this fraud -- and especially considering that David Gregory never once objected to it -- his outrage over the Obama White House's calling on Pitney for the toughest question any reporter at that conference asked seems strangely misplaced.
On the other hand, considering that this White House's admission of people like Pitney into the circle of people who get to ask questions at these conferences represents a direct erosion of the "elite" status of people like David Gregory -- and in fact an opening of these questions to many more "representatives of the people" -- it's really not too surprising.