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Politico: Obama calls on HuffPost for Iran question (staged)


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Is it me or is this happening more often?


June 23, 2009

Categories: Blogs

Obama calls on HuffPost for Iran question UPDATE

In what appeared to be a coordinated exchange, President Obama called on the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney near the start of his press conference and requested a question directly about Iran.

“Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran,” Obama said, addressing Pitney. “I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

Pitney, as if ignoring what Obama had just said, said: “I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.”

He then noted that the site had solicited questions from people in the country “who were still courageous enough to be communicating online.”

“Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of the — of what the demonstrators there are working towards?”

Reporters typically don’t coordinate their questions for the president before press conferences, so it seemed odd that Obama might have an idea what the question would be. Also, it was a departure from White House protocol by calling on The Huffington Post second, in between the AP and Reuters.

CBS Radio's Mark Knoller, a veteran White House correspondent, said over Twitter it was "very unusual that Obama called on Huffington Post second, appearing to know the issue the reporter would ask about."

According to POLITICO's Carol Lee, The Huffington Post reporter was brought out of lower press by deputy press secretary Josh Earnest and placed just inside the barricade for reporters a few minutes before the start of the press conference.

(This post was rewritten shortly after the exchange and updated in the text. Initially, I wrote the exchange was "clearly coordinated," but have since put the question to a Huffington Post spokesperson and the White House for more elaboration. See updates: There was discussion between the White House and Pitney about asking an Iran question).

UPDATE: Deputy press secretary Bill Burton responds: "We did reach out to him prior to press conference to tell him that we had been paying attention to what he had been doing on Iran and there was a chance that he’d be called on. And, he ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian."

UPDATE 2: Knoller, again via Twitter: "Huffington Post's Nico Pitney says the WH called him this morning and invited him to ask his Iran questions at the news conference."

UPDATE 3: Pitney says the White House reached out about his Iran coverage, but only said it was possible he'd get a question.

Watch: http://www.politico.com/singletitlevideo.html?bcpid=1155201977&bctid=27282630001

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3:58 PM ET -- From Nico: Feeling very grateful for all your submissions. I just returned from President Obama's press conference, where I was able to ask a question directly on behalf of an Iranian. I can't emphasize enough how grateful I am for all the submissions I received -- both from contacts I've been communicating with for several days, and from many others via email and Facebook and the Farsi-language social networking site Balatarin.

As I tried to say at the press conference, all of the Iranians who are communicating online do so at great risk. It was very courageous of them and I hope the question I ended up choosing did them some justice.

Also, apologies for the light posting today, which will probably continue through the evening. We'll be back at full speed tomorrow.

A few words about how this came about for those who are curious: as readers know, I've spent a lot of time writing and debating about the President's reaction to the events in Iran. Last night, after emailing with a few people about Obama's press conference and what he might say, I decided to throw it open to our readers. I received a call from White House staff saying they had seen what I'd written and thought the President might be interested in receiving a question directly from an Iranian.

The White House didn't guarantee that I would be able to ask a question. But I decided that if there was even a chance, I should try to reach out to as many Iranians as possible. With the invaluable help from some readers -- Chas, Chuck, and other Iranian Americans I wish I could name because they deserve the credit -- I was able to post a message in Farsi on Twitter and have my request for questions posted late last night on Balatarin. I ended up choosing the question I did because it was one of the consensus questions that many people had suggested.

Thanks also to the White House staff. They were up front about not being able to assure that a question would be asked, they never asked what the question would be, and they helped me move through the very packed briefing room when I showed up a bit late (sorry to the many toes I stepped on getting through).

More tonight.

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