President Obama is 'Open for Questions' Online

townhall

Didn't like the questions that were asked of President Obama at his press conference Tuesday night? Want to pose a follow-up on something the president said?

On Thursday you can ask him directly when Obama takes questions from the public in an online town hall-style forum on the White House's Web site, www.whitehouse.gov.

The Obama campaign used the internet more effectively than any other campaign in history, so it comes as no surprise that they would continue that cyber outreach from the White House.

They are deeming this forum an "experiment" where Americans can send questions and vote for the submissions they like.

So far, 14,520 people have submitted 17,511 questions and have cast 541,461 votes.

Leaving no stone unturned, the President's Twitter account (https://twitter.com/BarackObama) came back to life today with its first post since the inauguration, directing followers to White House online forum.

The president will be standing at a podium in front of an audience made up of "real Americans," the White House said. An administration official will moderate the event and pose the most popular questions submitted on the Web site to the president.

In addition the president will take questions from the audience in the room and will field questions from YouTube submissions which will be played back on a monitor in the room. The event will be open to the press, but the president will not take questions from reporters.

The start time for the event has not yet been announced, but it will likely be late morning.

"One of my priorities as president is opening up the White House to the American people so that folks can understand what we're up to and have a chance to participate themselves," Obama says in a greeting posted on the White House Web site. "Many of you are worried and have a lot of questions and you want to know what your government is doing to get our economy back on track. You deserve those answers. That's why we're going to try something a little different."

During the post-election transition period, the Obama team had a similar forum set up on their Web site where Americans could submit questions and receive responses.

The Bush administration had an online series called "Ask the White House," where Americans could engage in a live chat with administration officials, but the president himself never took part.

The Obama administration continues to demonstrate its eagerness to branch out beyond the Washington media establishment for interviews and credentials for presidential news conferences, and look for forums where the president can engage more directly with the American people.

When the Bush administration issued a press credential to a blogger for a daily press briefing in 2005, it made headlines because it was the first time a Web writer had been granted such access.

That was then, this is now and the notion of a blogger being a novelty act in the briefing room doesn't even raise eyebrows.

White House officials have said that they want to provide opportunities for the president to speak directly to the American people, above that mainstream media "filter" that his predecessor lamented.

Last week, Obama worked on his NCAA tournament brackets while the ESPN cameras rolled. While on the West Coast, he visited to the set of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to push his economic plans. After a sit-down interview in the Oval Office, the president gave a tour of the White House grounds, including the new swing set, to the television program "60 Minutes." He has conducted several sessions with reporters from smaller, regional newspapers.

Many Get In, Only 13 Got Called On

The Obama administration has found ways to take a White House news conference, perhaps the most inside-the-Beltway gathering, and fit it to its liking.

When Obama took questions at Tuesday night's news conference in the East Room, he could have turned to a reporter from the sizeable contingent of foreign news agencies or to one of a handful of bloggers who were not relegated to the back or sides of the room.

Gaining access to the East Room were reporters from black media outlets like BET, Essence magazine and Black Enterprise. A reporter from CNN Turkey scored a seat, perhaps because Obama will visit Turkey at the end of his trip to Europe early next month.

Also jammed into the East Room was a radio reporter from the National Rifle Association news outlet; reporters from The Washington Blade, a weekly publication targeting Washington's gay and lesbian community; and The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine. Even two student reporters from local universities were allowed in.

Sarah Mimms, a news editor and reporter for The Hoya, Georgetown University's student newspaper, said she was surprised when her application for a news conference credential was granted by the White House press office.

Neither Mimms nor her counterpart from Howard University's campus paper, The Hilltop, got a chance to ask their question however.

More than 160 reporters were granted a credential for Tuesday night's Q&A session but Obama called on 13 members of the media.

Two of the lucky 13 came from outlets that have not been part of the regular rotation at briefings by the press secretary -- Univision and Ebony magazine. Both reporters asked questions that were of interest to their particular audiences -- efforts to stem violence on the U.S. border with Mexico from the Univision reporter and a question about the increase in the number of homeless children from the Ebony writer.

The president also signaled he was willing to engage in follow-up questions, a definite no-no during the Bush years.

Who Gets Called On

The traditional format is to have the reporters from The Associated Press and Reuters wire services front and center because the president will turn to them in the beginning. Then it is on to the television network correspondents and reporters from the major national newspapers.

In his first news conference last month, Obama ruffled some feathers by not calling on some reporters from traditional news organizations, including The Chicago Tribune, his former hometown paper, as well as The Wall Street Journal and Time and Newsweek magazines.

Obama instead called on a reporter from the liberal-leaning Huffington Post Web site, marking the first time a president called on a reporter from a Web-only publication.

On Tuesday night, Obama did not turn to reporters from any of the major national newspapers -- no New York Times or Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal was shut out again.

The Ticking Clock

A prime-time news conference presents a limited amount of time for a president who wants to work through a list of talking points and is willing to go on at length in an answer in order to check them off.

In his first news conference Feb. 9, Obama also took 13 questions, delivering lengthy responses, including one nearly 10-minute answer to a question about bipartisanship.

That ticking clock is one of the limitations of a prime-time news conference. During the day, television networks are more inclined to stick with a news conference that runs longer than its scheduled hour. At night, during valuable network prime-time programming, if the White House asks for an hour, it gets an hour.

A former Bush White House official who was involved in media strategy said that when it comes to who gets questions at a presidential news conference, it often boils down to time.

"It's really not that strategic," this official said. "You know that there are probably 15 news organizations that you feel some obligation to call on because of their place -- the wires, the TV networks and cables, the major newspapers. And those guys are going to get questions and so that takes you a pretty long way into the press conference. Who would I leave out of that?"

President Bush had a seating chart at the podium with him that gave him a rundown of what reporters were sitting where, but aides said that he did not rely on a predetermined list of questioners in a particular order.

Obama let it slip Tuesday night that he had one, starting off the Q&A portion of the evening by saying, "With that, let me take some questions. And I've got a list here."

Once he got past the usual suspects, Bush would call on a reporter from organizations that did not get a chance recently and don't get called on during every news conference.

"You think back, did we call on the guy from Roll Call last time? Has he gotten a question in a while?" said a former White House aide. ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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