JERUSALEM – Although the reporter involved denies she coordinated with the White House, speculation abounds over the genesis of the press conference inquiry last week by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose question about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. prompted a national race scandal involving President Obama.
Several blogs have picked up on unanswered questions surrounding the event and have speculated that the White House may have coordinated the question.
“Sweet was prepped, planted and performed on cue,” was the title of a piece on The Real Barack Obama blog.
“Lynn Sweet has earned her bones as a reliable member of ‘Chicago on the Potomac,'” concluded the blog. “Congratulations, Lynn, you’ve finally arrived! You’re playing with the big dogs now.”
Radio host John Batchelor wrote about the event on his blog:
“Questions abound,” writes Batchelor. “This was [Sweet’s] first ever question at any of the now five POTUS pressers at White House.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs may have only fueled the bloggers’ speculation by refusing to deny Sweet’s question was coordinated with the Obama administration.
At a press conference last week focusing on health care, Sweet threw an out-of-leftfield question at Obama, asking the politician about the arrest of Gates, which until then was mostly a local matter that received some national media attention.
“What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?” asked Sweet.
Her question was read from a piece of paper.
Obama responded by reviewing what he knew of the case and accusing police of acting “stupidly” in dealing with Gates.
Obama took questions from seven reporters during the conference. A video of the media event clearly shows a well-orchestrated conference, with all seven reporters first being pre-selected by the White House to ask questions, although the reporters may not have known they were chosen.
Obama can be seen calling each reporter by name from a piece of paper, prompting the journalists to ask his or her one question. Reporters not first called upon did not attempt to ask Obama any questions. Sweet was the last reporter called on by Obama.
In the video, Sweet actually is seen standing up with a microphone in her hand, preparing to ask Obama a question before she is even called upon and while Obama is still answering the previous question. Clearly, Sweet was handed the microphone by someone in the room.
Also suspicious to some, Obama interrupted his answer to a previous question to make room to call on Sweet.
“All right, I tried to make that short so that Lynn Sweet would get her last question in,” Obama said before calling on her.
This was the first time Sweet was granted a question from Obama at any of his presidential press conferences. Asking a question about Gates at an event focused on health care seems remote to some. Although Sweet may have known Obama had a relationship with Gates, the question remains how she would have known Obama was updated on the particulars of the Gates case and why she asked such a tangential question.
Sweet, in a blog posting from last week, denied her query was coordinated with the Obama administration but failed to answers key questions surrounding the origin of her inquiry.
“No conspiracy, folks,” she writes. “When President Obama called on me, he had no idea what I would be asking. I had not written or blogged about the Gates incident, so no one in the White House had any clue that I was particularly interested in Obama’s reaction.”
Continued Sweet: “I got a call from the White House press office about 6:30 p.m. confirming I was indeed going to show up at the 8 p.m. press conference. I was told I ‘may’ get a question from the president. No one asked me – directly or indirectly – about what I may be asking. No one from the White House tried to plant any question.”
Her explanation, however, has only generated more unanswered questions for the bloggers’ speculation. If she had never written about the Gates incident, for example, why did she use her one question to Obama on the matter?
Sweet did not reply to a WND e-mail posing that and other questions, such as whether she informed anyone in the White House of her interest in the Gates affair and exactly when she found out she would indeed be asking a question.
In another twist in the plot, the White House’s Gibbs refused an opportunity to deny Sweet’s question was not preplanned with the White House.
At a follow-up press conference, Gibbs was specifically asked by a reporter: “Prior to the president going out for that press conference, obviously you sit down, you go over the questions that are going to be asked for the evening and you rehearse answers or discuss how he will answer questions. Did this come up as part of the preparations – the Gates matter – and if so, was his word choice of ‘stupidly’, was that ever thrown around in preparation?”
Gibbs replied: “I’m not going to get into the process of all this.”
The reporter pressed, “What was discussed about that question? I mean.”
“I’m not going to get into it,” said Gibbs.
“Were you shocked when the president used those words?” the reporter persisted.
Gibbs responded: “My opinion on that doesn’t matter.”