President Obama's highly anticipated press conference Wednesday — in which he offered his strongest remarks about new gun legislation in his any of his or the White House's statements since the Newtown shootings, and officially announced a commission to be led by Vice President Biden — wasn't very interesting to the White House press pool. They wanted to talk about the fiscal cliff. Here's an anatomy of the insiders' priority shift.
The world was watching at 11:45 a.m. for a statement from Obama, who had alluded during a Sunday speech in Newtown and via his press secretary Tuesday that he would press for recommendations regarding everything from a new assault-weapons band to limits on high-capacity clips like the ones Adam Lanza used Friday morning to gun down 20 children, six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, and his mother. And he made his statement. It was, indeed, strong.
Then Obama said he would take a few questions. Now this was, it should be said, the first time the president put himself out there before White House correspondents in weeks — and his first since right after Election Day. But no one expected an emotional meeting about gun policy to switch so quickly to... the endless negotiations over a debt deal. Obama turned first to the AP's Ben Feller:
Obama speaks about gun control after Newtown. And first question from the White House press corpse? Fiscal cliff. Doh.— Richard Adams (@RichardA) December 19, 2012
And the president indulged:
Pres Obama's answer to the first question and folo from Ben Feller was over nine minutes according to our clock here at the NYT.— carl hulse (@hillhulse) December 19, 2012
At which point the Wall Street Journal's White House correspondent asked a second question... about the fiscal cliff:
2nd question for Obama, from @carol_e_lee , also about fiscal cliff. "what's the next move?"— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) December 19, 2012
The third question came from Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown:
Question three at the gun presser is on the fiscal cliff.— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) December 19, 2012
And that just sent Twitter into a rage. Pundits, gun-control enthusiasts, the works — all the people who had taken to the Internet waiting on the NRA for days (and responding in force to the lobby's statement) finally wanted some prompted answers from the president, and their press surrogates didn't even ask.
Here's Piers Morgan...
White House press corps message to the world: 'We don't care about gun control'. Shameful.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) December 19, 2012
...and Heidi Moore at The Guardian:
And this is why I follow no more than three members of the White House press corps at any one time. Unbelievable.— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) December 19, 2012
...and The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel:
...and Buzzfeed's Southpaw:
Attention reporters: The fiscal cliff is bullshit, and it's over. Grover Norquist just caved.— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) December 19, 2012
We get the anger — these select few people are asking questions on behalf of the American people. But as Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller pointed out, these are pre-selected questioners, so you might wonder if Obama knew they would ask about the fiscal cliff so he could tell his side of the ongoing negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. But it turns out, as the Huffington Post's Michael Mcauliff reports (in a suggestion that's now being debated), that the reporters in the room were actually prodded to talk about guns... at a press conference about guns:
Wow. the White House handlers had to ask the press to ask about Newtown.— Michael McAuliff (@mmcauliff) December 19, 2012
And so ABC's Jake Tapper, whose Twitter feed has been very emotional about Newtown as well, got prodded, perhaps into something of a rushed emotional question:
Jake Tapper asks President Obama: "Where have you been?" Obama responds: I've had 2 wars, financial collapse, auto bailout.— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) December 19, 2012
The president responded with what the Internet kids might call a "pwn":
And that was the end of the Big Important Moment on Guns. Did the White House press corps really fail its audience? Well, the White House had released a statement earlier Wednesday that it would veto any so-called "Plan B" if passed by Boehner and the House GOP, and the backup option continued to backfire even as the press conference dragged on. And the fiscal-cliff deadline is certainly more pressing — officially, anyway — than gun legislation, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she'll propose when Congress returns in January, which is when Biden's commission's recommendations are due. But for now, everyone's talking about guns — that much the president made clear in his unprompted statement — and the Americans having the online part of the conversation are recommending we stop talking so much about the boring stuff and get down to the killing part.