Like athletes limbering up for the big game, White House reporters have been going through elaborate preparatory rituals as they bone up for tonight’s prime-time news conference with President Obama, the second formal “presser” of his presidency.
The unspoken contest playing out under the East Room lights: The president wants to deliver a message – in this case, reassurance on the economy and a plug for his budget – and not get tripped up by issues he considers extraneous, or that might overshadow what he wants to say.
Reporters have the opposite incentive: They want to “make news” by getting the president to say something he hasn’t said before, or wasn’t prepared to say – which, by definition, is not his message.
I think we were very deferential because … it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.
Sucking up to George W. Bush — and maybe even getting your own nickname — elevated a reporter’s status in 2003. Trying to knock Obama off his game now elevates a reporter’s status. It really is that simple.