Presidential press conferences are breeding grounds for Obamateurisms, as Barack Obama struggles when forced to move from the TelePrompter — which he eschewed in yesterday’s presser for written notes, apparently stung by ridicule over his reliance on the device. Obama has difficulty in fielding extemporaneous questions, so Obama and his staff thought they might avoid that by planting a question with a pliant blogger. Instead, the interchange got so clumsy that the question-planting became obvious:

THE PRESIDENT: Nico [Pitney of the Huffington Post], I know that you, and all across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?

Q Yes, I did, I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian. We solicited questions last night from people who are still courageous enough to be communicating online, and one of them wanted to ask you this: 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 what the demonstrators there are working towards?

Obviously from his question, Nico expected Obama to call on him normally. Instead, Obama stole his introduction, and Nico’s weird repeat exposed the staging.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Obama never answered the question:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, we didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country. What we know is that a sizeable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It’s not an isolated instance — a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.

And so ultimately the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that’s why I’ve been very clear: Ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.

What we can do is to say unequivocally that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence, about dealing with peaceful dissent, that spans cultures, spans borders. And what we’ve been seeing over the Internet and what we’ve been seeing in news reports violates those norms and violates those principles.

I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.

Compare the question to the answer. Obama never answered either of them.

Dana Milbank, not exactly a staunch defender of conservatism, blasts the White House for its dishonesty:

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. “I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet,” Obama went on. “Do you have a question?”

Pitney recognized his prompt. “That’s right,” he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. “I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.”

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn’t so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, “The Obama Show.”

Yes, what a way to celebrate freedom and to show the Iranians how an independent media works — by co-opting it through planted questions.  Has Obama made HuffPo the official White House propaganda organ yet, or is it still on the QT?

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

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