Presidential news conferences aren't what they used to be.
Barack Obama's 52-minute encounter with the White House press corps Wednesday was less of an illuminating give-and-take and more of a television promotion in which the president demonstrated his ability to avoid answering questions and at the same time showed a fresh sense of confidence and command spawned by his re-election victory last week.
Six of the 10 reporters whom Obama called on were from television networks with relatively big audiences: CNN, Telemundo, NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Two were from large wire services, Associated Press and Reuters. Two were from newspapers, the Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
The president was able to easily slip and slide away from questions he didn't want to address, such as what happened in the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
I've covered nearly all of these news conferences over the past quarter-century. And in the not so distant past, presidents seemed to feel more of an obligation to explain themselves and the media seemed more willing to press the presidents when they were elusive. But there is no one in the current press corps with the aggressive, bulldog style of a Sam Donaldson or a Helen Thomas. Both of them are long gone from the beat, and they are missed.
In addition, the press corps has fewer cards to play. The public doesn't side with the mainstream media the way it used to. Instead, Americans dislike and distrust the media and don't think the reporters represent them and their interests. As a result, a president feels little or no reluctance to stiff reporters or dodge their questions.
Obama did this at the end of Wednesday's session when a correspondent shouted a query at him, violating the protocol under which journalists are expected to raise their hands politely and silently in an effort to be recognized. Obama grinned and said, "That was a great question but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out." This demonstrated once again that every president makes the rules of engagement, and the media play by them or get shunted aside.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.