President Obama held a “National Discussion on Healthcare Forum” on July 1 in which he was supposed to field questions about healthcare reform. Americans could submit their questions online using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. While Obama did field questions, those asking the questions were either biased or hand-picked by the White House and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took major heat from the press corps about it.
At least three journalists complained to Gibbs during his daily press conference about the way the public was being “controlled.” CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Chip Reid led the complaints by asking Gibbs “this sounds like a very tightly controlled audience and list of questions. Why do it that way?”
The attack on Gibbs was so uncharacteristic that even liberal Hearst columnist Helen Thomas chimed in against the administration. “We have never had that in the White House” she said of the level of control. “I’m amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency” would go for such restriction.
As Reid summed up, “it’s not really open.”
“The Washington Times” Jon Ward first reported about the set-up on Twitter. He wrote that of the seven questions asked, four were hand picked by the White House. The remaining three questions all came from liberal groups that have supported Obama: Healthcare for America Now, Organizing for America, and Service Employees International Union.
All three organizations have been open about their connection and support for the president. Healthcare for America Now stated on its’ Web site: “Our organization and principles are supported by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and more than 190 Members of Congress.” Organizing for America’s Web site is entitled: barackbama.com. The Service Employees International Union Web site stated, “Members of the Service Employees International Union endorsed Obama to achieve economic justice, quality, affordable healthcare for every American, the freedom for workers to unite in unions, and an end to the Iraq war.
Unlike the reaction in the press room, two stories written about the forum, one by the Associated Press on nytimes.com and one on ABCnews.com, while somewhat critical of Obama, failed to mention the pre-selection and leftward leaning of the questioners.
The Associate Press did at least identify Debby Smith as a volunteer with Organizing for America, and labeled this organization as “Obama's political operation within the Democratic National Committee.” The article then went on, “Among the other questioners were a member of the Service Employees International Union and a person with Health Care for America Now, which recently organized a Capitol Hill rally for overhauling health care. Also questioning the president – via the Internet – was Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of
A story by Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller on ABCnews.com’s blog, Political Punch, did not give any background on the questioners at all. It did, however, feel it necessary to include, “The President took seven questions in the town hall, held in Annandale, VA just outside of Washington, D.C. The tech-savvy White House expanded the forum to include questions submitted via YouTube, Twitter, and their own Web site, whitehouse.gov.”