Not much to add here. Health care and Iran’s would-be “Green Revolution” were the big topics that summer, and they dominated the discussion, with a little bit of unemployment talk to round out the mix. For those wondering—“consequences” goes with Iran; “nonnegotiable” goes with the public option fight. The press corps is forever trying to get the president to draw lines in the sand.
Here are the first three press conferences of 2010, held from February to May (i.e., before “town hall” craziness broke out):
More health care, the Gulf oil spill, and the debate over sanctions in connection with Iran’s suspected nuclear program. But those topics disappeared by the second half of 2010, when Obama held four press conferences between September and December:
The GOP landslide in the midterms put partisan gridlock on everybody’s mind, and the fight over the Bush tax cuts at the center of the agenda.
In 2011, it’s focused on tax cuts and other aspects of the parties’ fiscal fight:
The Wordles seem to confirm that, most of the time, given subjects do dominate at these press conferences. But they can’t show whether other issues come up regularly without dominating discussion, or are mostly ignored. So I went back to the full list of questions and searched for specific words that seemed relevant to America’s current challenges, to see how often they’ve come up.
Here’s what I found (again, treat these results with caution): In the transcripts I reviewed, the word “education” was used one time in a reporter’s question—and that was back on March 24, 2009, when Chip Reid asked how Obama could square his plan to invest in education with his commitment to get the debt under control.
How about the housing crisis? The word “foreclosure” was also used only once—on Feb. 9, 2009, when Jake Tapper listed it as one of several criteria that might be used to judge whether the economy had rebounded. The word “mortgage” has been used twice, and not since April 2009.
The word “housing” itself, meanwhile, seems not to have been used at all — and that’s despite the fact that the tail end of 2010, when coverage of foreclosure fraud peaked, is also when Obama held press conferences most frequently. (That period is also when prominent White House correspondent Peter Baker would have been reporting his January 2011 NYT Magazine article on Obama’s economic policy, which notably neglected the administration’s response to the housing crisis.)
Obama did address those topics himself during these press conferences, and his comments may have made it into the ensuing coverage. But as a point of comparison, consider: the word “jobs” was used eleven times in reporter’s questions in the transcripts I reviewed, and “unemployment” twelve; neither dominated during a specific period, but they’ve cropped up repeatedly. Meanwhile, “debt” was used sixteen times, “deficit” eight, and “budget” a whopping twenty-four.
The White House press corps can clearly converge on an issue agenda—but education policy and the housing crisis (and plenty of other stuff) just as clearly aren’t on it. That means that, in the absence of specific events that make them timely and newsy, they just don’t get asked about.
Oh, and speaking of timeliness—one of the most commonly used words, cropping up twenty-three times in the reporters’ questions I reviewed? “Today.”