I have to confess I didn’t even notice that President Barack Obama only called on women reporters at his end of the year press conference until journalists and commentators began to make note of it. I confess this not because I’m attempting to position myself as righteously gender-blind, but only that it just didn’t register. Call me crazy, but I was more focused on the substance of both the media’s questions for the president and his responses than myopic gender politics.
But the media did gush over Obama’s decision to make his final presser of 2014 a female-centric affair.
“Obama took eight questions on everything from the Sony hacks to tax reform to Cuba, and in each case made what appeared to be a deliberate effort to listen to female voices,” wrote Vox’s Kelsey McKinney. In that post, quite a few verified reporters were quoted celebrating the Obama’s choice to exclude male reporters from participating in the president’s final press conference of 2014.
“This press conference is sponsored by Male Tears,” Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray wrote.
“See how newsy press conferences can be when women ask the questions?” PBS anchor Gwen Ifill said, indulging in a bit of female chauvinism.
“Obama Just Held A Press Conference And Didn’t Take A Single Question From A Dude And It Was Awesome,” BuzzFeed’s Miriam Elder added.
“The dude network guys now look especially mad,” Politico‘s Seung Min Kim asserted. “Love this newser.”
“Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it was ‘an excellent decision,’” Politico’s Dylan Byers reported.
“I think it was deliberate I’m sure it was discussed beforehand among President’s advisers including my successor Josh Earnest and Jen Palmieri the communications director,” Carney said on CNN after the press conference. “I think it was an excellent decision to make, there are a lot of superb female reporters who cover the White House every day, I think it was a fun way and a smart way to end the year by calling on only female reporters.”
When asked about the move, White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest justified Obama’s decision to only call on women and defended the prowess of those female reporters, as though their ability had ever been called into question
“The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States,” Earnest said. “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”
That’s right. This might have been a planned maneuver on the president’s part.
This isn’t the first time the president has favored the female members of the White House press corps over the men. He called only on women journalists at the end of the NATO summit in Wales in September.
But this is the first time during Obama’s 32 solo news conferences at the White House that it’s been an all-female press event, according to White House historian Martha Joynt Kumar. “I don’t remember it from any other administration,” said Joynt Kumar, who has been monitoring White House news conferences since the 1970s.
While it sometimes appears on television as though Obama is randomly calling on reporters, he actually selects them from a list prepared by his press secretary and his staff. Neither the president nor his staff know what the questions will be.
Mark Knoller, a CBS News correspondent and the press corps’ unofficial keeper , said on Twitter that TV reporters were advised before the news conference began that press secretary Josh Earnest wanted to call on reporters who don’t regularly get to ask Obama questions.
“Only women called on by Pres. #Obama ? Or a sign of the times,” long-time ABC News reporter Ann Compton asked on Twitter, “because the chosen news orgzs [sic] all have women on the beat?”
That’s how I saw it, which is probably why the Vast Historic Significance of this decision eluded me. It’s striking how many reporters appear to believe that Obama’s decision only to call on women represents a Great Victory for Social Justice because that is also an admission of a parochial obsession with something remarkably small and petty. It seems as though this bias, and it is a bias, is so widely shared among the members of the press corps that no one felt any shame in openly expressing it.
What a sad state of affairs for the institution that is supposedly serving as a watchdog over our government.