Off the Charts

There has been much speculation in the media over whether the White House decides in advance of televised presidential press conferences which reporters President Bush will call upon and in what order (something Bush has implied before). Bush’s aside during the Q&A portion of his press conference last night — that he has some “must-calls” in the press corps — made it clear he does have a list of preferences.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan offered some further insight on this point yesterday. As the blogger Cablenewser noted, as of 12:11 a.m., the early version of Dana Milbank and Mike Allen’s Washington Post piece today included this fascinating bit at the bottom:

Bush has acknowledged that he calls on reporters from a list that has been prepared in advance, and White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked whether the news conference would be “a free-for-all” or whether the president would “handpick reporters.”

“He has the seating chart before him,” McClellan said. “There are some that he wants to make sure to get to, and then others he can call on from the seating chart.”

Asked whether there are some “that he doesn’t want to get to,” McClellan said with a smile, “Of course not.”

Cablenewser commented, “It’s notable that those grafs were included in the main story.” Except that “those grafs” are nowhere to be found in the version of the Milbank-Allen piece currently available online (or in print). Allen explained to Campaign Desk that “the first edition was written partly before [President Bush’s] news conference — for later editions, we were able to include more from the news conference itself.”

Fair enough. But unlike President Bush’s press conference or Scott McClellan’s afternoon press briefings and gaggles, McClellan’s morning press briefing — during which Allen told Campaign Desk McClellan made the above-mentioned comments — is not televised or transcribed for the public.

So unless you were reading the early edition of today’s Washington Post online soon after midnight, are a Cablenewser reader, or live in one of a handful of cities that picked up the early version of the Milbank-Allen piece (like Seattle or Palm Beach), you missed an illuminating nugget.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.