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Author Topic: Openness and Transparency in the Obama White House
Lisa
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Robert Gibbs gets grilled by Chip Reid and Helen Thomas.

Watching this is like watching Pravda in action. But it gets worse.

The White House Channel on YouTube. The clip with Chip Reid and Helen Thomas finally showing some discomfort, if not outright shock, at the bullying tactics of the Obama administration, is from 7/1. Notice on this second link, they skip from 6/26 to 7/2, leaving that press briefing out. It's still posted, but it's hidden from the playlist. You have to search for it specifically.

You can start at 13:45 if you want to see the full context of that initial clip.

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Scott R
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Is there text? I'd prefer not to stream.
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DarkKnight
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did a quick Google for transcript, I think this is it
Transcript
EDIT:
I think this is a longer transcript
Transcript 2

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Alcon
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Here's a transcript of that part. Sounds to me like Gibbs was caught off guard and just had a bad day. It happens. And it doesn't sound like this event is any more tightly controlled than any other political event of the last decade or so from either side. I'm guessing it's just a day of bad tempers in the White House Press Room.

quote:
Q At today's town hall meeting, questions coming in on YouTube and Twitter and such -- who decides what questions will be asked?

MR. GIBBS: I think a group over at New Media is shuffling through questions. I think if you go on -- I did not do this today, but I think if you go on our Web site you'll see some of those questions. And I think, Chip, at the end of the day, when you -- I think the questions that will be read to the President -- obviously he'll take some questions from the audience there -- I think will be a representative sample of the issues in this debate that we're dealing with.

Q And the audience is all preselected, right?

MR. GIBBS: No, we usually just generally hand out tickets on a first come, first serve basis.

Q Well, I think in this case, the people were invited either by the White House or by the university -- I mean, invited by this community college, as it was explained to us.

MR. GIBBS: Well, if the university is --

Q It just feels very tightly controlled. It feels -- I mean, the concept of a town hall I think is to have a open public forum, and this sounds like a very tightly controlled audience and a list of questions. Why do it that why? Why not open it up to the public?

MR. GIBBS: How about we do this -- how about you can ask me that question tomorrow based on what questions were asked rather than preselecting your question based on something that may or may not come through.

Q But why pre-select? Why not just open it up for people and allow any question to come in?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I think if you get on your computer from your e-mail address --

Q I have. I have.

MR. GIBBS: Have you sent in your question?

Q I think that would be inappropriate. This is for the public.

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, I'm confused -- are you not a member of the public?

Q Well, I think if you were going to allow questions from the press you'd have us in a prominent position over there and allow us to ask questions -- you haven't done that.

MR. GIBBS: Let's not get into the notion of where you'd be sitting -- (laughter) -- if I let you ask a question, but --

Q Well out of shouting range.

MR. GIBBS: Well, but you could e-mail.

Q Would you put my question in there? I don't think so.

MR. GIBBS: Maybe. Have you e-mailed?

Q I mean, this is a town hall.

MR. GIBBS: It's a little -- if you haven't e-mailed.

Q This is an open forum for the public to ask questions, but it's not really open.

MR. GIBBS: I couldn't agree more.

Q But it's not open.

MR. GIBBS: Based on what?

Q Based on the information that your staff gave us on how the audience and the questions are being selected.

MR. GIBBS: The questions are being selected by people that e-mail on Facebook and Twitter.

Q Well, they're not deciding what questions actually get in.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I appreciate, again --

Q It just feels completely controlled --

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate, again --

Q -- in a way unlike his town meetings all the campaign and --

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the pre-selected question on your part.

Q Will there be dissenting views --

Q Yes, how about that?

MR. GIBBS: I think that's a very safe bet. But, again, let's -- how about we do this? I promise we will interrupt the AP's tradition of asking the first question. I will let you ask me a question tomorrow as to whether you thought the questions at the town hall meeting that the President conducted at Annandale --

Q I'm perfectly happy to --

Q That's not his point. The point is the control --

Q Exactly.

Q -- we have never had that in the White House. And we have had some, but not --

Q This White House.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say, I'll let you amend her question.

Q I'm amazed -- I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency and --

MR. GIBBS: Helen, you haven't even heard the questions.

Q It doesn't matter. It's the process.

Q You have left open --

Q Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or was screened, or the question was screened.

Q It's shocking. It's really shocking.

MR. GIBBS: Chip, let's have this discussion at the conclusion of the town hall meeting. How about that?

Q Okay.

MR. GIBBS: I think --

Q No, no, no, we're having it now --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'd be happy to have it now.

Q It's a pattern.

MR. GIBBS: Which question did you object to at the town hall meeting, Helen?

Q It's a pattern. It isn't the question --

MR. GIBBS: What's a pattern?

Q It's a pattern of controlling the press.

MR. GIBBS: How so? Is there any evidence currently going on that I'm controlling the press -- poorly, I might add. (Laughter.)

Q Your formal engagements are pre-packaged.

MR. GIBBS: How so?

Q Well, and controlling the public --

Q How so? By calling reporters the night before to tell them they're going to be called on. That is shocking.

MR. GIBBS: We had this discussion ad nauseam and --

Q Of course you would because you don't have any answers.

MR. GIBBS: Well, because I didn't know you were going to ask a question, Helen.

Go ahead.

Q Well, you should have.

Q Thank you for your support.

MR. GIBBS: That's good. Have you e-mailed your question today?

Q I don't have to e-mail it. I can tell you right now what I want to ask. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that at all, Helen. I don't doubt that at all.

Q Actually, could you pass along a question to the President from all of us, is he going to support a tax increase on the middle class?

MR. GIBBS: I will -- if you get on your computer you can ask him that yourself.

Q I think you're a more direct pipeline than --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I was just told that you guys have a pretty good -- go ahead.


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Kwea
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Seemed pretty moronic to me. I mean, I am not a White House spokesperson, but even I knew where they were going wiht it.


BTW, he is hardly the first person to do this, or the first President, and I think he has a right to do this.

But I wouldn't be making such a big deal about how open the discussion is going to be if I was hand picking the questions and the people asking them before the "town meeting" ever started. [Big Grin]


I'd hardly call it bullying, though. Not even close.

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Tuukka
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I'm ignorant on this issue - Hopefully I understood the controversy correctly. A couple of questions:

Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

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Alcon
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He's far from the first president. It's been done this way since the early 1900s. Maybe earlier. There are reporters who are assigned to the White House and attend all White House press briefings. The press secretary (Robert Gibbs) takes questions from the press, sometimes choosing people who raise their hands and sometimes pausing to answer shouted questions. I'm not sure how one becomes a White House reporter, other then getting assigned by a major news agency.

In terms of the tone of their interaction. It's unusual but not that unusual. They interact on a daily basis and it's often in an oppositional way - with the press always wanting more information, and often information that Secretary Gibbs doesn't want to give yet (for political, or diplomatic reasons). It's the press secretaries job to figure out how much and what information he can give with out endangering legislative or diplomatic efforts the White House is under taking. Of course, the press wants all the information so... you can see where the conflict - and possible annoyance comes from.

If you want an inside look at how the White House works that is dramatized but fairly accurate, watch a few episodes of The West Wing.

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Blayne Bradley
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The questioner sounded like a bully to me.
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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
He's far from the first president. It's been done this way since the early 1900s. Maybe earlier. There are reporters who are assigned to the White House and attend all White House press briefings. The press secretary (Robert Gibbs) takes questions from the press, sometimes choosing people who raise their hands and sometimes pausing to answer shouted questions. I'm not sure how one becomes a White House reporter, other then getting assigned by a major news agency.

In terms of the tone of their interaction. It's unusual but not that unusual. They interact on a daily basis and it's often in an oppositional way - with the press always wanting more information, and often information that Secretary Gibbs doesn't want to give yet (for political, or diplomatic reasons). It's the press secretaries job to figure out how much and what information he can give with out endangering legislative or diplomatic efforts the White House is under taking. Of course, the press wants all the information so... you can see where the conflict - and possible annoyance comes from.

If you want an inside look at how the White House looks that is dramatized but fairly accurate, watch a few episodes of The West Wing.

That's what I was thinking.

The title of this thread gave the impression that somehow the Obama administration is more secretive than the previous ones, but it seems more like standard political bureaucracy.

I have to say thought that Gibbs, who I have never seen before, didn't seem very good at handling himself in general. He seems like a kind of guy who comes off as nervous even when there isn't any reason to be nervous. Not a very good character trait for someone in his position.

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Tuukka
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double post
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Scott R
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I don't think that how Obama picks the reporters in attendance at his press conferences is truly indicative of how open or transparent his administration is.

This sounds an awful lot like reporters whining.

Now, if the administration refuses to disclose certain, perhaps personally damaging memos for trumped up reasons of national security...that may be reason to cry foul.

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Alcon
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Well it is Helen Thomas, she's a notoriously tough questioner. I dunno who Chip is. Reading from the beginning it sounds like he's intentionally trying to spin it as White House control, but it doesn't look to me like they're are controlling it much more than is usual for this sort of political event.

And the reason Robert Gibbs wants them to wait is to prove that even though they select the questions and the questioners, they do it even handedly and don't just select friendly questions. There are certain questions they know they need to answer. Certain things they want to explain. If they make sure to preselect the question, then they can make sure to get to give those answers and explainations. Then they can take other questions. I'm not sure if they're preselecting some questions or all of them. But I don't blame them for doing it at all.

By the way, way to continue the spin Lisa, but I shouldn't expect anything more than that from you.

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Teshi
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Uh, since when is vetting the questions sent in by the average joe not allowed? How else would they do it? Random selection? Good luck with getting interesting insightful questions that way. Of course they're going to be pre-selected for quality and comprehensiveness.

Gibbs is absolutely right to ask the interviewer to hear the questions that got through before judging him. If the answers that get asked are weak and un-revealing, then the press has every right to complain.

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Brian J. Hill
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quote:
Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

The White House Press Room reporters themselves are always pre-screened for security reasons, and are usually nominated to be there by the press organization they represent. I rememeber one time where Bush II got into a spat of trouble over having a "reporter" in the press corps who was basically a glorified conservative blogger, who tended to ask only "softball" questions which would make the White House look good.

The issue at hand here seems to be that the questions themselves have the appearance of being pre-screened, which is a very big deal indeed. The press corps (and the journalism profession itself) prides itself on its objectivity and independence, and the one thing they don't want to have is the appearance of being "handled" by anyone. As with any new administration, the first few months have been given a sort of "pass" by the press, though some argue the Obama administration has been treated exceptionally by the press due to the fact that most of the press agrees with Obama ideologically.

I don't know specifically about whether this type of press conference has always been the norm in the White House, but Helen Thomas has been covering the president since Kennedy, so if she's objecting (rather strongly, I would say) then one could make the case that this is an unusually controlling administration.

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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by Brian J. Hill:
quote:
Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

The White House Press Room reporters themselves are always pre-screened for security reasons, and are usually nominated to be there by the press organization they represent. I rememeber one time where Bush II got into a spat of trouble over having a "reporter" in the press corps who was basically a glorified conservative blogger, who tended to ask only "softball" questions which would make the White House look good.

The issue at hand here seems to be that the questions themselves have the appearance of being pre-screened, which is a very big deal indeed. The press corps (and the journalism profession itself) prides itself on its objectivity and independence, and the one thing they don't want to have is the appearance of being "handled" by anyone. As with any new administration, the first few months have been given a sort of "pass" by the press, though some argue the Obama administration has been treated exceptionally by the press due to the fact that most of the press agrees with Obama ideologically.

I don't know specifically about whether this type of press conference has always been the norm in the White House, but Helen Thomas has been covering the president since Kennedy, so if she's objecting (rather strongly, I would say) then one could make the case that this is an unusually controlling administration.

So has Helen Thomas not objected before in her career, or is this something she does every once in a while? Alcon mentioned that she is known as a notoriously tough questioner. Has she said that the current administration is more controlling than previous ones?

Also is the process of pre-screening questions something that has not happened during previous administrations? If I understood Alcon correctly, he explained that this is a common process, and the pre-screened questions are answered in the beginning of the conference, after which more spontaneous questions are being answered.

Does the Obama administration refuse to answer such, more spontaneous questions, if they are harder in nature?

I'm just trying to figure out whether this is all just politics as usual, which it seems to be, or whether it really is some turn for the worse.

Of course it would be nice if the current administration would be more open than the previous ones, but these press conferences are not critical in that sense, IMHO. I think that any administration needs sometimes to temporarily withhold information to get the job done properly.

Then there is of course the fact that there are issues they want to address to press, so they pick questions which allow them to address those things.

So I don't really see what all the fuss is about here, unless the Obama administration indeed has for the last few months been considerably more secretive in press conferences than your typical American administration.

[ July 06, 2009, 12:08 PM: Message edited by: Tuukka ]

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
... but it doesn't look to me like they're are controlling it much more than is usual for this sort of political event.

Actually, the Daily Show of all places did a pretty good comparison of Bush-era "town halls" and questioning that Blair had to face in Britain in a similar format (albeit without the control). The difference was quite striking.

Of course, while it is true that this level of control is as usual in the States, it seems much more hypocritical in light of one of Obama's election themes (and his administration's claims) to be more open and transparent.

In aggregate, when you consider other incidents like the continuing of warrant-less wiretapping or the blocking of British attempts to investigate torture, it doesn't bode well ...

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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by Mucus:
quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
... but it doesn't look to me like they're are controlling it much more than is usual for this sort of political event.

Actually, the Daily Show of all places did a pretty good comparison of Bush-era "town halls" and questioning that Blair had to face in Britain in a similar format (albeit without the control). The difference was quite striking.

Of course, while it is true that this level of control is as usual in the States, it seems much more hypocritical in light of one of Obama's election themes (and his administration's claims) to be more open and transparent.

In aggregate, when you consider other incidents like the continuing of warrant-less wiretapping or the blocking of British attempts to investigate torture, it doesn't bode well ...

I can agree with this. Holding previous standards isn't good if you made promises to break them.
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Lyrhawn
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It seems pretty silly to argue against the process in this case. Like Teshi said, as a matter of process, how else would they do it than by wading through the questions to pick them?

What's their alternative?

To me, they'd have better footing by waiting for the questions and then choosing to take issue with them if they suck, rather than throwing what looks like a useless hissy fit when there's no better alternative being offered.

Let's look at the real comparison here: When Bush had "town halls" the people had to sign legal agreements before they were allowed in, they were screened, and the questions were filtered.

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King of Men
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I second the "reporters whining" comment. There are press conferences where reporters get to ask questions on the fly; this event is in a different format, which was announced beforehand. If you don't want to attend in that format, you don't have to.
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FlyingCow
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They should have taken all the questions. There couldn't have been more than a few million. Need to be sure all the duplicate questions, and questions wholly unrelated to the topic at hand are covered, too. Can't leave those out.

Make sure the ones with only the barest grasp of the english language are read without editing, too. If it's wholly incomprehensible... we'll get through it somehow.[/tongue in cheek]

*Of course* there will be some screening of questions. That's obvious. Taking issue with the fact that questions are screened is somewhat sophomoric, I think.

Now, if they wanted to question *how* the questions were prescreened - that only certain types of questions were allowed, that no questions were taken on a specific topic, etc - then that's something to dig into. But, of course, there's no way to do that until *afterwards*.

Seems like a pretty silly interview, to me. Lots of noise, no real substance.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Tuukka:
I'm ignorant on this issue - Hopefully I understood the controversy correctly. A couple of questions:

Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

This is supposedly a town hall meeting. Except that it isn't. It's a press conference. Calling it a town hall meeting gives the impression that questions may be freely asked, but that's not the case.

And the transcript really doesn't do Gibbs' smarminess justice.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
By the way, way to continue the spin Lisa, but I shouldn't expect anything more than that from you.

Way to justify anything the Obama administration does.
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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Let's look at the real comparison here: When Bush had "town halls" the people had to sign legal agreements before they were allowed in, they were screened, and the questions were filtered.

Bush didn't promise openness and transparency. So basically, that was all a lie? Obama never intended to be any more open than Bush? Would have been nice had he mentioned that during the campaign.
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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Tuukka:
I'm ignorant on this issue - Hopefully I understood the controversy correctly. A couple of questions:

Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

This is supposedly a town hall meeting. Except that it isn't. It's a press conference. Calling it a town hall meeting gives the impression that questions may be freely asked, but that's not the case.
So the issue is with the term "town hall meeting"? Somebody apparently just chose a bad wording to describe a situation where normal people were allowed to send in questions through internet.

It's also worth noting that the press conference you have given links to is basicly a "town hall meeting", where all questions are being asked, and those questions are not pre-checked. Sure, the questions are being done by reporters, and not by the public, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of censorship.

[ July 06, 2009, 12:56 PM: Message edited by: Tuukka ]

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
I second the "reporters whining" comment. There are press conferences where reporters get to ask questions on the fly; this event is in a different format, which was announced beforehand. If you don't want to attend in that format, you don't have to.

That does not seem to be the issue at hand.
If you listen to the full recording, the reporters are quite explicit that they do not want to participate either way. For better or for worse, they don't feel that they are regular members of the public and didn't intend on attending the town hall meeting either way.

Their complaint is about the fact that the White House is taking questions via social media and then selecting the questions that they wish to answer, portraying that as a "town hall."


quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
...
What's their alternative?

Ummm, I thought that would have been obvious. The British simply allow people to come in, raise their hands, and ask questions unfiltered. I see no reason why Americans cannot meet that standard.

(Unless you're coming around to my view that there is something inherently uncivilized about Americans [Wink] )

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Alcon
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quote:
This is supposedly a town hall meeting. Except that it isn't. It's a press conference. Calling it a town hall meeting gives the impression that questions may be freely asked, but that's not the case.
Did you miss all the bits about millions of questions, and bad questions? Yes there needs to be some screening. Wait and see what questions they choose to be asked, and if you feel they were poorly chosen to be softball questions go after them for that.

quote:
And the transcript really doesn't do Gibbs' smarminess justice.
Cut the man some slack. You'd have a bad moment or two if you had to be in front of that bunch nearly every day.

quote:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Let's look at the real comparison here: When Bush had "town halls" the people had to sign legal agreements before they were allowed in, they were screened, and the questions were filtered.
Bush didn't promise openness and transparency. So basically, that was all a lie? Obama never intended to be any more open than Bush? Would have been nice had he mentioned that during the campaign.

This is openness and transparency by comparison to many, many presidents of the past. By presidential standards in general Obama has done an amazing job of communicating with the public early and often. So he still needs some screening of questions at a town hall - duh. For the reasons previously mentioned, there's always gonna have to be some screening.

quote:
quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
By the way, way to continue the spin Lisa, but I shouldn't expect anything more than that from you.
Way to justify anything the Obama administration does.

Way to try and cast everything he does in a "holy frack, it's the end of the world" kind of light.

I've never had a problem with your politics Lisa, I'm happy to chronically disagree with you. What I've always had a problem with, and continue to have a problem with is your tone. The way you spin everything.

You're worse than Fox News. Rather than having a good faith discussion on the issues with those who disagree with you, you post in a way that makes them the great fascist enemy and you the poor repressed person who just desperately wants your god given freedom.

If you would, please, drop the spin, drop the hyperbole, drop the "everyone who disagrees with you is as good as a neo-NAZI, fascist, oppressive tyrant" attitude and come to the discussion with an open mind, I would be more than happy to discuss with you - sans snark.

And yes, I agree with Obama on many, many things. And on the things I don't immediately agree with him, I trust that he is acting in good faith and to the best of his abilities. I trust him to defend my interests to the best ability allowed by the legislative process of the country and the state of the world. And I am going to hang to my hope that he is a general good, intelligent person who is doing the best anybody could right now until the evidence really starts to pile up otherwise.

If you'd like to start a thread of evidence you feel indicates otherwise - and do it with out the spin, the bias and the hyperbole - I would happy to consider it and discuss with you why I think he's doing certain things and why I'm okay with it.

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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Tuukka:
I'm ignorant on this issue - Hopefully I understood the controversy correctly. A couple of questions:

Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

This is supposedly a town hall meeting. Except that it isn't. It's a press conference. Calling it a town hall meeting gives the impression that questions may be freely asked, but that's not the case.

And the transcript really doesn't do Gibbs' smarminess justice.

THAT wasn't suppose to be a town meeting, Lisa...speaking of spin.

It WAS a press conference ABOUT a meeting....and the actual PUBLIC got to ask questions of the President during that meeting. While it isn't exactly completely open, it sure the hell isn't what you are claiming it was.

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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Tuukka:
I'm ignorant on this issue - Hopefully I understood the controversy correctly. A couple of questions:

Is doing a press conference with a group of pre-selected reporters something that presidents tend to do in America, or is it only Obama?

Also, is this how Obama always handles press conferences, or is this more of an exception? Is he the first president to do such thing?

This is supposedly a town hall meeting. Except that it isn't. It's a press conference. Calling it a town hall meeting gives the impression that questions may be freely asked, but that's not the case.

And the transcript really doesn't do Gibbs' smarminess justice.

THAT wasn't suppose to be a town meeting, Lisa...speaking of spin.

It WAS a press conference ABOUT a meeting....and the actual PUBLIC got to ask questions of the President during that meeting. While it isn't exactly completely open, it sure the hell isn't what you are claiming it was.

To continue your point, the press conference in fact wasn't even related to the meeting. It was a standard free-form conference and a reporter decided to bring the "town hall" meeting up, because it had happened earlier that morning.

It seems to me that Gibbs wasn't even aware of how the people submitting questions in the town hall meeting were chosen (probably not on top of his priorities), so the reporter got him off guard.

Seems like much ado about nothing.

[ July 06, 2009, 01:47 PM: Message edited by: Tuukka ]

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ambyr
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I interned for my local Congresswoman one summer, and while I was there I helped run several town hall meetings. We would pass out question cards to all attendees, and then collect the cards as they finished writing questions. Rules were simple: -every- card had to be collected and kept, no matter the content. In fact, we weren't even allowed to look at the card before handing it to the Congresswoman. Questions were addressed in the order turned in. And all cards not answered by the Congresswoman during the meeting were brought back to the office and answered via correspondence.

I'm not actually convinced that's the best method of running a town hall meeting. A lot of good questions had to be handled in private correspondence, while a lot of redundant or incoherent ones got addressed in public. And first come, first served is definitely biased in terms of faster writers--plus it makes it very hard to do follow-up questions. But it's not -impossible- to run a meeting this way. In fact, it's pretty easy.

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Tuukka
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The youtube link of the press conference was posted on 1th of July. Here is a link to "online town hall" that was held on the same day, so this is probably the one we are talking about. This is a pretty nice text, because it's basicly a live countdown of everything that happened. They've also included a link to GOP commentary of the event:

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/07/01/live-blogging-obamas-town-hall-meeting-on-health-care/

Apparently Obama had a live audience at the Northern Virginia Community College, and they were allowed to ask questions in traditional "town hall meeting" style.

Along with that, Obama answered questions from a Facebook noticeboard specifically put up for the event, and from video-questions posted at youtube (and maybe from Twitter, I didn't notice it being mentioned).

I guess I should mention that some of the questions were critical.

Frankly, it seems obvious to me that the youtube and twitter videos would be pre-checked, as someone might just put up a video of dogs screwing as a "question".

When it comes to a Facebook noticeboard, same process applies for a simple reason: When people ask questions in a real town hall meeting, they try to behave, because they don't want the whole world to think they are morons. But since in Facebook you can create an anonymous account, people just write whatever random crap that comes to their minds. They are not being held responsible for being morons. Just like in most message boards. We all know the general quality of political discussion on internet - Do we really want our presidents to go to that level? Wouldn't it be basically a waste of time for everyone involved?

After reading what the actual event was all about, I can't really see any reason for bickering here.

[ July 06, 2009, 01:44 PM: Message edited by: Tuukka ]

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Mucus
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Trying to figure out how we do "town-hall" meetings in Canada.

It seems that this is an on-going controversy here too, but open town-hall meetings have been done.

quote:
Tonight at a rally of around 150 people in Winnipeg, Dion accused Stephen Harper of hiding from real Canadians.

Dion highlighted how, unlike his opponent, he has been holding open town hall meetings across the country, taking all questions from anyone without a safety net. He said Harper just can't do it, "he can't stand talking to people who don't share his right-wing opinions."

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/politicalbytes/2008/09/the_leader_in_the_bubble.html

On the other hand, Dion lost the election so one could be tempted to say it might be politically unwise for Obama to hold an open town-hall. But that doesn't stop us from recognizing that he in fact isn't.

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DarkKnight
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quote:
I don't think that how Obama picks the reporters in attendance at his press conferences is truly indicative of how open or transparent his administration is.
Well, this was in response to Obama's Healthcare reform townhall meeting in Annandale and not a press conference. What has Thomas so upset is the number of plants in the audience that he called upon.
Washington Post
quote:
Fighting back tears, Debby Smith, 53, told Obama of her kidney cancer and her inability to obtain health insurance or hold a job. The president hugged her - she's a volunteer for his political operation - and called her "exhibit A" in an unsustainable system that is too expensive and complex for millions of Americans.
This could be a touching moment for Obama...except
quote:
Smith, of Appalachia, Va., is a volunteer for Organizing for America, Obama's political operation within the Democratic National Committee. She obtained her ticket through the White House.

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DarkKnight
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quote:
Apparently Obama had a live audience at the Northern Virginia Community College, and they were allowed to ask questions in traditional "town hall meeting" style.
The audience wasn't allowed to ask questions. Certain people, Obama supporters only, were allowed to ask questions.
Another quote from Helen Thomas about the Townhall meeting:
quote:
“Nixon didn’t try to do that,” Thomas said. “They couldn’t control (the media). They didn’t try.

“What the hell do they think we are, puppets?” Thomas said. “They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”


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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by DarkKnight:
quote:
I don't think that how Obama picks the reporters in attendance at his press conferences is truly indicative of how open or transparent his administration is.
Well, this was in response to Obama's Healthcare reform townhall meeting in Annandale and not a press conference. What has Thomas so upset is the number of plants in the audience that he called upon.
Just for a record, the video is from a White House press briefing, which deals with pretty much any topic the reporters want to ask about. I didn't watch the 45 minute video in its entirety, but what I did watch, it covers a lot of topics that have nothing to do with healthcare.

I just wanted to make this clear, as it seems to me many are confused about what videomaterial we are exactly watching and quoting.

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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by DarkKnight:
quote:
Apparently Obama had a live audience at the Northern Virginia Community College, and they were allowed to ask questions in traditional "town hall meeting" style.
The audience wasn't allowed to ask questions. Certain people, Obama supporters only, were allowed to ask questions.
I thought all the people in the audience were Obama supporters?

How does this differ from "town hall meetings" done by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, who have a pre-selected audience of supporters to ask questions?

Or are you implying that every person who was asking a question was a plant asking a planted question?

[ July 06, 2009, 02:36 PM: Message edited by: Tuukka ]

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Noemon
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Lisa, Obama's failure to implement the kind of transparency he promised is incredibly disheartening, but I you didn't pick an example that really demonstrates it.

Glen Greenwald had a good column on the subject back in June that you might be interested in.

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Blayne Bradley
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90% of people are stupid so if you let a proper sample of the people into a townhall to ask questions 90% of them are pillocks and 90% of the questions asked will be retarded questions like "why are you a secret Muslem communist who pals around with terrorists?"
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Mucus:

quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
...
What's their alternative?

Ummm, I thought that would have been obvious. The British simply allow people to come in, raise their hands, and ask questions unfiltered. I see no reason why Americans cannot meet that standard.

(Unless you're coming around to my view that there is something inherently uncivilized about Americans [Wink] )

I want to say it was McCain who actually suggested that the president go before the Congress in much the same way that the Prime Minister goes before the House of Commons and answers blunt, point blank questions, and I have to say, though I somewhat doubted his sincerity, I think it was one of the best ideas of the campaign. I would LOVE it if American presidents would do that, not just for the entertainment value, but because I think direct conflict with criticism is something this country sorely needs.

Look at how criticism is leveled for the most part on this country. Republicans foam at Dems, Dems foam at Republicans, but they do it through the press. They do it in such a manner that either ensures that the charges will never be addressed, or puts the onus on the media to address them and then redirect the charges to the appropriate party, like a huge political switchboard.

If everyone was locked in a room and told to sort it out, I think things would be demonstrably different. But neither side wants to do that because no one actually wants to be called out on anything. It's an awful way to run a country, especially one that champions itself the way we do.

Actually forcing people to defend what they say, and god forbid, provide some sort of evidence or proof to back it up, would make not only political discourse better, but legislation, I think. So yes, I'd love to see that happen.

Short of Obama hosting a national radio call in show, I'm not sure how that works with random people though. Though the more I think about it...I'm liking the idea of a White House call in radio show...

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kmbboots
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Radio call in shows screen their calls. Haven't you ever seen Frasier? [Wink]
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Let's look at the real comparison here: When Bush had "town halls" the people had to sign legal agreements before they were allowed in, they were screened, and the questions were filtered.

Bush didn't promise openness and transparency. So basically, that was all a lie? Obama never intended to be any more open than Bush? Would have been nice had he mentioned that during the campaign.
Oh come now. First off, let's not pretend the two are the same. If you really think that's the case, I don't see how we can go any further in this discussion. Obama isn't even in the same neighborhood as Bush's stonewalling. Not even close. He might get there someday, but not yet.

Second, if we can agree that Bush was far worse, are you really more upset with the guy who promised 100% openness and only delivered maybe half, than with the guy who promised nothing, and then met his low bar?

Honestly, I'm disappointed with the lack of transparency, but I'm hopeful that it'll get better, and I appreciate that it's better than what we had.

Can we at least agree on that?

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
Radio call in shows screen their calls. Haven't you ever seen Frasier? [Wink]

Do you think Obama can get Peri Gilpin?
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rivka
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He probably can't afford her.
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Lyrhawn
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Wow, if the federal government can't outspend ABC Family, we're in more trouble than I thought.
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rivka
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You're kidding, right? Really successful actors make considerably more than the President does. At least in terms of his salary.
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Sterling
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Have to settle for Kal Penn instead...
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
You're kidding, right? Really successful actors make considerably more than the President does. At least in terms of his salary.

Oh, I just meant that I can't imagine ABC Family is paying her anything close to Frasier money.
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rivka
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I have no idea what she's doing now.

More than just the ABC Family gig, looks like.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Let's look at the real comparison here: When Bush had "town halls" the people had to sign legal agreements before they were allowed in, they were screened, and the questions were filtered.

Bush didn't promise openness and transparency. So basically, that was all a lie? Obama never intended to be any more open than Bush? Would have been nice had he mentioned that during the campaign.
Let's ask a real simple question:

Do you believe that the transparency of the Obama administration is in any way equivalent to the transparency of the Bush administration?

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DarkKnight
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quote:
Or are you implying that every person who was asking a question was a plant asking a planted question?
I'm not implying it, I am stating it. The poeple in the audience who asked questions were preselected by the White House to ask specific questions, or in Ms. Smith's case to cry on cue. Obama needs to play on fear and urgency to get his bills through Congress NOW before anyone has a chance to read them.
quote:
Do you believe that the transparency of the Obama administration is in any way equivalent to the transparency of the Bush administration?
The Obama administration has gone out of its way to make promises (5 day online review of all bills, no lobbyists, no earmarks, and on and on) but so far it has broken all of those promises of transparency.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by DarkKnight:
The Obama administration has gone out of its way to make promises (5 day online review of all bills, no lobbyists, no earmarks, and on and on) but so far it has broken all of those promises of transparency.

Uh huh.

What I like about this statement is that because you used the absolute "all," I only need to provide one example to show that what you are saying is false.

This is ignoring the part where I can ask you to tell me where Obama promised "no lobbyists, no earmarks" and you would most likely be unable to find them.

quote:
On his first day in office, Obama fulfilled a promise to roll back some Bush administration restrictions on presidential records. He signed an executive order that restored a 30-day time frame for former presidents to review records before they are released. It also eliminated the right for the vice president or family members of former presidents to do the reviews.
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20090121/index.htm

Whoops.

In terms of transparency issues, the only promise that the administration has explicitly broken was the five-day public review for bills. Everything else, including the establishment of a national declassification center, increased protection for whistleblowers, provider report measures, and establishment of independent review institutes (such as an independent watchdog agency to investigate congressional ethics violations) are only falsely described as being broken promises.

If you have news sources that describe them as being broken promises (and you do), you should endeavor to find new ones that are less likely to err in their partial review of the president.

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