The Daily Heckler, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 18 2012 @ 11:02am

A reader writes:

The video of the Daily Caller reporter interrupting and arguing with Obama in the middle of his prepared Rose Garden remarks was a sad spectacle.  It also highlighted a core, positive attribute of Obama: his calm, adult and restrained responses to a number of indignities ranging from Joe Wilson yelling "You lie!" during his State of the Union speech, to Boehner's unprecedented rejection of a requested date to address a joint session, to the continuing demand that he "show his papers" and prove he is a citizen.

But, on a different tack, this episode reminds me of one of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the Obama presidency: how is it that Obama did not revive the JFK-style practice of frequent (and engaging) press conferences?  

Whether you agree with Obama's policies, it would be hard to think that this young, stylish, and intelligent guy would not be able to similarly thrive with repeated televised jousting with the press. It's so obvious that the failure to do so is bizarre, and (even weirder) Obama has been even less accessible to press conferences than recent presidents. To me, this has been one of the major mistakes of his presidency.  

I realize that there are major risks to unfiltered questioning by the press, but this should be an area of unique strength for Obama, like it was for JFK.  And it is free!  You don't need to raise millions in donor contributions for this platform.   You also don't need to complain that the media is not accurately covering your accomplishments – you can shape the news coverage yourself.  More importantly, failing to do these press events only, and wrongly, cements the notion of the "imperial Presidency."  So, a disastrous move politically and an equally bad move substantively.

Some facts that support our reader:

Obama has held slightly more news conferences than Bush did in his first three years (17 to 11). But for a president widely regarded as more fluent and comfortable with impromptu speaking than Bush was, the achievement seems unimpressive. [Study author Martha Kumar of Towson University] notes that Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush had faced the White House press corps far more times than Obama has by the time they reached their third year in office. Obama has also held fewer off-the-cuff Q&A's at photo calls and appearances (94) than either George W. Bush (307) or Clinton (493) — something that has chafed White House reporters.  

It's a worrying part of a pattern in which candidates for office avoid the kind of grilling that, say British prime ministers get at Question Time. Palin was the worst – never giving a single open press conference when running as an unknown for vice-president. When the press allowed her to get away with it, they were changing the rules of the game – to our collective detriment.