Obama and the Press

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 7:56 PM EDT

Walter Shapiro, after watching Barack Obama reply sharply to a couple of questions at today's press conference, offers up a theory:

In response to the next question — about the potential consequences if Iran continued to suppress demonstrations — Obama said with a sharp edge in his voice, "We don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. Okay?"

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally — very occasionally — the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president's public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.

Hmmm.  I suppose there might be something to this, but I have a different theory: the press only really gets disturbed by Obama's occasional acid tongue when it's aimed at the press.  On a later question about Obama's struggle to quit smoking, Shapiro says, "Words alone cannot convey Obama's mocking tone and his obvious disdain for this 'human-interest story,'" but I watched that part of the press conference and it seemed like a pretty mild dig to me.  You can judge for yourself above.

There's a convention in American politics that says politicians can manipulate the press behind the scenes as much as they like, and for the most part no grumbling is allowed.  It's all part of the game.  On camera, the rules are supposed to be same: the president is expected to pretend that every reporter is serious and well-briefed and every question is smart and penetrating.  But Obama doesn't always like to play by those rules.  He's occasionally willing to pull back the curtain on the media's inanity and to call a dumb question a dumb question.  Unsurprisingly, reporters don't like this much.

Shapiro headlined his post, "Pushing the President's Buttons."  But I think it might have been the other way around: the president was pushing his.