Thursday, March 20, 2014

No, Right-Wingers, Jay Carney's Briefings Are Not Fixed, and President Obama Is Not a Clock Nazi

President Obama gave several interviews to local reporters yesterday in order to press for an increase in the minimum wage, and one of those interviews has spawned some Drudge-baiting bullshit. As part of her reporting on her exclusive interview, Phoenix's Catherine Anaya told KPHO viewers that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney revealed, in an off-the-record chat, that questions from White House reporters "are provided to him in advance," and that "sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them."

The Weekly Standard reported on Anaya's remarks, then added an update that read "Carney denies," based on this Twitter exchange:

Ah, but that's just what he would say, isn't it?

TWS also reported on some more of the color that Anaya provided, alleging that "Reporters Held to 4 Minutes With President By Countdown Clock, Looming Aide, and Standing Up."

Let's start with the second one first, because it's the easiest. Anaya dd, indeed, explain the measures that the President's staffers take to try and keep him and the reporters on task and within time constraints, but also explained that she wasn't "held to 4 minutes" at all. In fact, her interview with the President ran over by 75%:

Now, on Carney getting questions in advance, Anaya seems to have misunderstood what Carey was telling her (as well as the meaning of "off the record"). In the clip that TWS pointed to, she says Carney "mentioned that a lot of times, unless it's something breaking, the questions that the reporters actually ask -- the correspondents -- they are provided to him in advance. So then he knows what he's going to be answering and sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them, because of course it helps when they're producing their reports for later on. So that was very interesting." 

 A bit later in the broadcast, Anaya softened that description a bit, saying that "reporters and correspondents, unless it is breaking news, provide questions to him in advance so he is already preparing for the answer," and that "in some cases, he actually prepares that answer for them so that they can have that to work on their reports later on."

Of course, reporters are emailing Carney questions all the time, before, after, and sometimes during the briefings, and as anyone who's ever watched a White House briefing will tell you, there are always 10 different reporters asking slight variations of the same question. That's part of how Carney compiles that binder he brings to the podium with him. We're not "providing" questions in advance, we're just asking questions, and for Carney, it makes sense to answer those 10, 20, or a hundred versions of the same question one time, during the briefing. There's nothing stealthy about it; when Carney gets a question he knows is coming, he will often flip through his briefing book to retrieve, and recite, a prepared statement, which reporters can then ask 10 slightly different followups to.

Some White House reporters, particularly TV reporters, are also prone to asking questions they already know the answer to, just so they can have a piece of tape of them asking about it, and of Carney answering. That's the reporter's artifice, though, not Carney's.

Questions like this, though, are an extreme minority, as most of the White House reporter's job (at the daily briefings, anyway) is to try and catch Carney off guard, and possibly shake loose some news. I guarantee you, for example, that Ed Henry didn't email Carney in advance to ask him if the White House cared about military death benefits during the government shutdown.

Wingnut overreactions aside, though, Catherine Anaya's reporting included lots of terrific color, and a great window into the White House from the perspective of a relative outsider. She also posted some great pictures on her Twitter feed.

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