President Obama's relationship with the White House press corps is getting more adversarial, as illustrated by his White House news conference yesterday afternoon. It was clear to reporters in the room that Obama wasn't pleased with some of the questions and that the journalists seemed more testy and pointed than they've been in the past. Obama seemed particularly displeased by a question about whether he has given up smoking. He grudgingly admitted that he is only "95 percent cured" and has suffered some lapses, implying that he puffs on a cigarette occasionally outside the White House. He said that he never smokes in front of his wife or kids.
Obama also seemed impatient with questions about his toughness—or lack of it—in criticizing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government in Iran. He was more forceful in condemning the Tehran regime yesterday but wouldn't openly declare it illegitimate. In addition, Obama seemed miffed at questions about the relatively slow pace of progress on legislation to overhaul the healthcare system. But he resisted attempts to get him to specify what he would require and what he would reject in the final legislation.
Another development that roiled the press corps was Obama's continued use of a list of reporters that he and press secretary Robert Gibbs compile in advance to determine whom to call on. Some reporters were surprised and troubled that White House officials arranged for Obama to call on Nico Pitney of the liberal Huffington Post website. The goal was to have Pitney ask a question from an Internet user in Iran, which he did, but the arrangement seemed too scripted for many members of the press corps. Republican insiders hope all this is a sign that the media will be less positive in covering Obama from now on. "The pendulum has swung," says a former senior adviser to Ronald Reagan. "At least I hope so."
- See photos of Obama behind the scenes.