President Obama’s First News Conference: Superlatives!

Fifty-eight minutes of excitement!

Best Question: Jake Tapper, ABC News

TAPPER: “The American people have seen hundreds of billions of dollars spent already. And still the economy continues to free-fall. Beyond avoiding the national catastrophe that you’ve warned about, once all the legs of your stool are in place, how can the American people gauge whether or not your programs are working?

Can they — should they be looking at the metric of the stock market, home foreclosures, unemployment? What metric should they use? When? And how will they know if it’s working or whether or not we need to go to a Plan B?

Simple. Straightforward. Actually provoked an answer. (“Job creation… normalizing the credit … Have we stabilized the housing market? …Whether we stop contracting and shedding jobs, and we start growing again.”)

Best “Off-Topic (Non-Economic-Stimulus-Related) Question (or, Best Question You Didn’t Anticipate): Ed Henry, CNN

HENRY: There’s a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage of the flag-draped coffins from coming into Dover Air Force Base. And back in 2004, then-Senator Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be, quote, snuck back into the country under the cover of night.

You’ve promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy, so the American people can see the full human cost of war?

(Response: The policy is under review.)

Best Tweet: Hyperfix:

CNN just did some weird double shot — showed AP Jennifer Loven asking question from front and back…can the hologram be far behind!?

Moment Most Likely to Get Media Types Talking: The Huffington Post (The Huffington Post!) gets a question.

Greta Van Susteren on Fox News:

I did notice that the Huffington Post got a question, so why can’t Gretawire?

From The Caucus Live Blog at

Huffington Post Gets a Question | 9:03 p.m. Sam Stein, who is covering the White House for the Huffington Post, was called upon by President Obama. It is almost certainly the first time that a Web-based publication was recognized by the president…

Harshest Assessment By Cable Pundits of White House Press’s Performance: Bill O’Reilly and Bob Morris on Fox News:

O’REILLY: What struck me about this was it wasn’t a press conference. It wasn’t. It was tee it up, ok and he had the little list of questioners. If O’Reilly or Morris were there, trust me, he wouldn’t have gotten to us. And then he does ten, twelve minutes ruminating, and I want information. Look, I would have said, “Hey, Mr. President, you’ve got Nancy Pelosi loading this up with all kinds of global warming stuff. What was that all about?” How about that for a question?

MORRIS: He had ridiculous questions.

Highest Praise By Cable Pundit of White House Press’s Performance: Chris Matthews, as noted earlier, on MSNBC:

“Well, I think our breed looked pretty good tonight. I think the press looked very good tonight. They asked great questions. I would be very impressed with the press tonight. Mara Liasson’s, Jake Tapper’s questions, Chuck’s [Todd] questions were sound. I thought they asked interesting questions. They covered a range of American topics from the stimulus package to the situation in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border even to the question of A-Rod. They were asking questions most people want answers to.

Creepiest Helen Thomas Discussion By Cable Pundits: Bill O’Reilly talking to Alan Colmes (also, Fox News):

O’REILLY: The White House press corps looked intimidated to me except the old lady, Helen Thomas, she was yelling, and he just ignored her. [Squawking noise ]

COLMES: Is that your Helen Thomas impression?

O’REILLY: It’s like the Wicked Witch of the East. I would have poured water on her. And she would have dissolved.

COLMES: It’s not nice to do that.

O’REILLY: She actually asked a question, Do you think the Taliban’s hiding in Pakistan? That was her question. [ed: No, it wasn’t.] So my question to you is why can’t my mom ask a question? Why can’t my mom…

COLMES: Does your mom have a 40-year journalistic career?

Creepiest Helen Thomas Reference In a Live-Blog: Daniel W. Drezner at

8:49 PM: Obama loses his Helen Thomas virginity.

Most Frequently-Heard Insta-Observation: His answers were so loooong….

Charlie Gibson on ABC News directly after the press conference:

First news conference since going into the White House. Taking only 13 questions over an hour. Seemingly treating each question almost as a teaching moment with long and expansive answers…

Keith Olbermann directly after press conference on MSNBC:

With the repeated promise that his stimulus program was not only necessary, urgent, but will produce 4 million new jobs… The bipartisanship or lack thereof seemingly the main focus of the reporters in the room. President Obama thus concludes the first news conference as the nation’s 44th president. And yes his answers to two of the first three questions, thorough and eloquent and crafted, were roughly seven minutes long. Each.

Bill O’Reilly, minutes after the press conference, on Fox News:

On a scale of 10 being the best, 1 being the worst, [President Obama] sold [the stimulus] 7.5. Number 1: he was boring. Number 2: He was too long-winded. His first answer was ten minutes long. It was like he was making mini-speeches. You don’t learn a lot from that… If I were at home with a clicker in my hand, a tough hour to get through.

Most Frequently-Used Adjective To Describe Obama’s “Tone:” “Serious” (and its synonyms). Choose your favorite.

New York Times (straight news report): “Mr. Obama’s tone was for the most part serious and businesslike…”

New York Times (“news analysis”): “Authoritative and unsmiling, gloomy rather than inspirational…”

Washington Post: “Somber and focused”

AP (“analysis”): “determined, deadly serious,” “grim-faced leader, rarely smiling or laughing”

Time “a dour and downbeat press conference…”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.