By SHERMAN FREDERICK
I dragged my Pacific Daylight Time, Las Vegas arse out of bed early Tuesday to watch President Barack Obama take questions from the national press corps. Maybe there’d be a tweet or a blog in there somewhere. Or, if I was lucky, even a Sunday newspaper column.
Call me lucky. But not in a way that made me feel good about my beloved profession.
My expectations were low, because outside of guys like Ed Henry, Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd and Major Garrett, the White House reporting crew will never be mistaken for aggressive watchers of the Obama administration.
Most journalists at these news conferences seem to throw questions to President Obama like a kid throws treats to a puppy: “You’re such a good president, yes you are, yes you are. Here’s a yummy question for you!”
I ache for a White House press corps that critically and consistently analyzes the president’s responses to questions, calling his cards when necessary.
Maybe this presser would be different. There was the possible use of poison gas in Syria, the Boston bombing and the developing story that agents within the Obama administration strong-armed survivors of the Benghazi attack against testifying before Congress.
Alas, my disappointments were many.
The president’s response on Syria — though way too long — was informative enough. He said he didn’t know for sure whether the Syrian government released the poison gas. Fine.
But on the topic of the Boston bombers, he carefully used the phrase “extremist activity.” He never said “Muslim extremist activity.” It seems weird to me every time he engages in that kind of PC-speak. Why no reporter asks the president why he does that is beyond me.
And on Benghazi, the president said this was the very first he had heard of the charge that his administration intimidated Benghazi survivors into avoiding Congress. Unless the president was doing an impersonation of the “Casablanca” character Captain Renault (I’m shocked — shocked!), that’s an implausible answer.
The next reporter in line should have said something like: “To follow up, sir: You are completely ignorant of these widely reported accusations by some Benghazi survivors until this very moment?”
Instead the next reporter took off on a new topic where, once again the president skated by with another unbelievable answer. This time on the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
It was framed by the recent comment by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who helped write ObamaCare. Baucus set off political alarm bells at the White House when he said this about the implementation of ObamaCare: “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”
So, Mr. President, the reporter asked, is your implementation of ObamaCare an impending train wreck?
Once again, another consequence-free answer. Amid rhetoric about what a big piece of legislation ObamaCare was and how complicated it was, the president, I kid you not, asserted that there is nothing to fear from ObamaCare because the benefits therein have already taken place for 85 percent of Americans. They just don’t know it.
Translation: If most Americans weren’t so stupid, they’d see all the good things they already have received from ObamaCare. So be thankful and move along. Nothing to see here.
Did the press corps give the president a little mustard for that baloney answer? No follow-up whatsoever.
Look, don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that everything that comes out of the mouth of President Obama smells of horse apples. But some of it does. Some of it, in fact, makes hardly any sense.
America needs a press corps willing to hold the president accountable.
Sadly, that’s not what usually happens at Obama news conferences. It certainly did not happen Tuesday. It was a perversion. It was journalistic malpractice. It was to democracy what Dr. Kermit Gosnell is to obstetrics.
Sherman Frederick is former editor of the Tribune-Herald and former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.