The enforced silence about what went down in the session only invites speculation, an invitation that this blog is happy to accept. Perhaps MSNBC’s Schultz proclaimed to the president, “We at this table have your back, Mr. President.” Perhaps the president expressed disappointment that these left-leaners aren’t hitting the opposition squarely enough. Perhaps someone mentioned Fox News, and everyone else just sat there shaking their heads. Perhaps the president solicited advice from the group, though a journalist who has attended off-the-record White House sessions in the past says that’s unlikely. “It’s my hunch based on my limited experience that presidents are more interested in explaining themselves rather than seeking advice,” says the journalist. For all we know, the attendees pressed the president to place things on the record, yet they somehow feel bound not to talk about such efforts.
Enough hammering on the journalists in attendance. The real problem here is a president who fears the record, or at least groups of reporters hungry for answers. The oft-cited Towson University Professor Martha Joynt Kumar has compiled numbers documenting the president’s lack of availability when it comes to news conferences and Q&A sessions with reporters. Yet, in fairness, Obama outpaces others in terms of interviews granted. (568, compared to 190 for George W. Bush, 187 for Bill Clinton, 294 for George H.W. Bush and 224 for Reagan over a comparable period).