You know that old saying that there are no dumb questions? It’s not true. I know. As a journalist, I’ve asked my share of stupid questions. Yet even in the context of my own shortcomings, I do not understand what the White House press corps is thinking during what passes for a news conference in the Obama White House.
Consider Monday’s news conference. The last presser of President Barack Obama’s first term spanned 53 minutes. Seven reporters asked questions — after Obama called on them as if according to script. In his fashion, Obama answered a couple.
There’s a law of verbal physics: The longer the question the less likely it is to be answered. Yet White House reporters rehearse these paragraph-length sentences, adding context the president doesn’t need and clauses that bury the lead. Many such questions are so complex that the questioner cannot reasonably expect an answer.
Julie Pace of The Associated Press lobbed the first softball when she asked Obama about gun violence and whether the White House will push for an assault weapons ban. Mistake. For the past month, reporters have been asking the president about guns. He has a library of stock “gun violence” phrases — “stakeholders,” “common-sense steps,” “focus on what makes sense.” He can answer on autopilot.
Besides, no way was Obama going to answer that question before the vice president could roll out his plan in response to the Newtown, Conn., shootings, which is expected this week.