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Just Answer the Hil Question, Mr. President-Elect

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Interesting thing happened this week. Somebody in the mainstream media (MSM) actually asked President-elect Barack Obama a good question. It concerned how Obama could square his campaign attacks on Hillary Clinton's foreign policy with his selecting her as secretary of state. Let's just say Obama didn't much like this new experience.


But besides making history as a bout of insubordination against the praetorian guardlike duties of the Obamedia, the question was also newsworthy enough to kick off a column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. Milbank set it up this way:

"Peter Baker of the New York Times pointed out to Obama that he once held a different view of his nominee to be secretary of state. 'You belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders,' Baker recalled. 'And your new White House counsel said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of your credentials since the spring.'"

Baker would ultimately buff the edges of the resulting give-and-take with Obama in his article -- this was, after all, the New Obama Times -- but Milbank, thankfully, retained the verbatim sharpness:

"'Well, I mean, I think --' Obama began. 'This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign.'

"'They're your quotes, sir,' Baker pointed out.

"'No, I understand. And you're having fun,' Obama continued. 'And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not faulting that.'"

Milbank placed this exchange in the context of the return on the Clintonistas, who, at last count, will hold nine key positions in the Obama White House. "Obama," Milbank wrote, "who campaigned against the Clinton way of doing things is now engaged in the veritable restoration of the Clinton administration."


But something deeper and more serious than personnel decisions is on display here. What is revealed is Obama's tactical denigration of a basic, legitimate and even screamingly obvious question as so much "fun" that he, the serious new president, may disregard and deride as frivolous.

The roll-the-tape, clip-file fact is, however, candidate Obama belittled candidate Clinton's foreign policy judgment and experience throughout the primary season. Any reporter with the minimal moxie to ask the president-elect why he would now decide to make Clinton the face of American foreign policy is simply (barely) doing his job.

But even this journalistic ABC is debatable in today's Obamedia. Time magazine's Joe Klein, while traveling abroad ("I'm in Europe on my way to Afghanistan"), was moved to blog against the "inanity" of the Obama-Hillary press conference questions, particularly the Baker question. Klein asked:

"What sort of journalist expects the president-elect to tell the 'inside story' of how he selected Hillary Clinton? (Those sorts of stories," he continued, "if told at all, are wrenched from aides on background -- and reported only after consulting multiple sources.) And what's the point of raising the nasty things Obama and Clinton said about each other during the primaries? Did the reporter expect Obama to say, 'Well, I still believe her resume is overblown, that's why I appointed her ... oh, and by the way, she still thinks it's dumb to talk to the Iranians without preconditions.'"


This is nothing less than breathtaking. Because, as Klein has effectively admitted, there is no plausible, logical or even grace-saving answer to the why-Hillary question, Klein sees no reason at all to ask it. This hyper-protective rationale opens a window onto a mindset that has long baffled me: Reporters like Klein simply don't want to put politicians like Obama (or, for that matter, Clinton) on the spot. Their litmus test appears to be: If it doesn't promise a good Obama answer, it's not a good Obama question. Indeed, according to Klein, there were much "better" questions reporters could have asked at that same Obama-Hillary press conference, a few of which he thoughtfully provided, including:

-- "Are you still going to call it the Global War on Terror?

-- "What are you going to do about Robert Gates's staff of Bush administration holdovers?"

-- "Could you give us a better sense of what the vice president's role will be in your Administration?"

-- Is he kidding?

Let's just say these aren't exactly queries born of zapping neurons, let alone a detectable pulse.

Elsewhere in the MSM, CNN's Campbell Brown of "No Bias, No Bull" reacted to the Obama-Baker exchange with far more lively sarcasm and fervor.

"I mean, really," Brown said, "how silly of that reporter to dare ask you, Mr. President-Elect, how it is that you completely mocked Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience just a few months ago, and yet today, you think there is no one more qualified than she to lead your foreign policy team." Brown went on to nail Obama's "fun" response as "an attempt to delegitimize" the question.


"But it is a legitimate question," she continued, adding: "Annoying questions are about more than just the press 'having fun.' Annoying questions are about the press doing its job and the people's right to know."

Could this mark the decline of Obamedia-mania? Don't hold your breath. Paradoxically, though, even as the conservative punditry glows with a strange rapture over President-elect Obama's emerging Cabinet, there is at least a limited revolt in progress among the MSM.

Of course, we still don't have an answer to that one good question.

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