Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gibbs Laughs Off Pot Questions @ at The White House Press Briefing (with video)

From Ari Melber's "The President's Never-Ending Virtual Town Hall" (The Nation):
During the press secretary's daily briefing on Thursday, Robert Gibbs discovered that the press wanted to pick up where the citizen questions left off. Several reporters pressed for answers to citizen questions that the president had only vaguely addressed. It was an unusually lively exchange--one regular correspondent said it was the least controlled briefing this year.
Obama laughed off the popular questions about marijuana during the town hall--blogger Nancy Scola's Mary Jane Rule holds that pot questions always win in open web forums--but several journalists had serious follow-ups.

"When the president said he doesn't think legalizing marijuana would give the economy a boost, was he giving a political answer or an economic answer?," asked one reporter, continuing, "does he have economic numbers to back that up?" First Gibbs tried to joke about a lack of government studies on that front, but the reporter pressed on: "What about medicinal marijuana?" Gibbs referred that angle to the Justice Department.

Then an NBC reporter protested to ask why Obama even mentioned marijuana, stating, erroneously, that "no one asked about it online." Gibbs noted that the question actually was popular, but then he attempted to downplay the support as the product of an "interest group." Some reporters swallowed that unsubstantiated claim, including Friday's Washington Post, but others pushed back, such as the Washington Times' Jon Ward:

You said from the podium a couple minutes ago that interest groups drove up the questions on the web site about marijuana. But the President and Secretary of State have also said in recent days that demand domestically is driving the problems on the border. You seem to be contradicting yourself a little bit and trying to say that the web site issue was an interest group issue...does the White House think that this is a major issue on the minds of the American people? Obviously you think demand is high.

Gibbs pivoted to express the administration's support for Hillary Clinton's analysis of the drug trade, but said it was a "stretch" to ask about marijuana as an economic stimulus. Ward did not let up, however, pressing Gibbs to articulate what the administration would do to "drive down [narcotics] demand."

The conversation continued, as journalists fleshed out and sharpened queries on an otherwise neglected topic, all because a few thousand citizens put it on Thursday's agenda.

Howie P.S.: The way the pot issue is handled here @ (22:30) is a good insight into how the Obama message machine deals with other "touchy" matters, except "laughing off the question" is most particularly in play. Here's the video (46:28) of the entire press briefing:

No comments: