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July 24, 2009
Lynn Sweet explains her question about Gates
Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief, Lynn Sweet, who asked President Barack Obama (D) the question that will be remembered about his health care press conference -- "What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?" referring to the incident between Harvard professor Henry Gates and the Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer -- further explains the circumstances of the question.
Replying to Clarice Feldman and others who wanted to know:
Of course that leaves unanswered the suggestion that she knew he would call on her--perhaps even last. And one has to wonder why she chose to lob a softball unrelated to the purpose of the presser--an explanation of the healthcare bill and chance to advocate for it. Sweet answered :
No conspiracy, folks.
When President Obama called on me, he had no idea what I would be asking. I had not written or blogged about the Gates incident, so no one in the White House had any clue that I was particularly interested in Obama's reaction.
I got a call from the White House press office about 6:30 p.m. confirming I was indeed going to show up at the 8 p.m. press conference. I was told I "may" get a question from the president. No one asked me -- directly or indirectly -- about what I may be asking. No one from the White House tried to plant any question.
By calling a prime time news conference, Obama got a chance to read a statement at the beginning pushing Congress to pass his health-care reform proposals.
But the White House did not set this up as a health-care-only press conference. There was no mandate on reporters who attended to ask questions about health care.
Ten journalists asked questions, including me; seven had health-care questions, three asked about other topics. The Sun-Times and Tribune Co. reporters both got questions -- the pairing of the rivals was by White House design.
Obama gave me the last question. I had no control over the timing. There was no chance for a follow-up. If I was called on earlier in the press conference, I may have asked about health care. I thought it was appropriate at the end to bring up another matter in the news--the Gates arrest. I would have posed the same question to President Bush.
Some saw a plot because I read my question. I do write them down for a White House press conference. No plot. I want to be concise.
But no explanation why she, and the other reporters still threw the president such softball questions about one of the self defining issues of Obama's administration.
And, just out of curiosity, I wonder what type of question about health care would she have asked had she been called on earlier?