White House Disputes Criticism That Health Care Town Hall

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White House Disputes Criticism That Health Care Town Hall

Post by Labbie » Thu Jul 02, 2009 1:31 pm

White House Disputes Criticism That Health Care Town Hall Meeting Is Staged

Before President Obama could even field the first Internet question for a town hall forum in Virginia on Wednesday, the White House was forced to defend the event against criticism that questions would be staged.

"I think will be a representative sample of the issues in this debate that we're dealing with," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs explained in response to concern that the event would be tightly controlled.

Over the weekend, the White House Web site solicited Americans to submit questions for the town hall via social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. According to the site, hundreds of entries were received.

Gibbs acknowledged that members of the White House's New Media office would be "shuffling through questions." And a White House Web site entry dated July 1st reads: "Today's the day where the president will get to answer some of the best submissions."

Gibbs tried to deflect further questions on why the event was being so tightly controlled -- unlike the town hall meetings Obama participated in on the campaign trail.

"How about you ask me that question tomorrow based on what questions were asked rather than pre-selecting your question based on something that may or may not come through," he said.

Asked if dissenting views would be expressed, Gibbs said, "I think that's a very safe bet."

But some reporters complained that the event was the latest attempt by the White House to control the media.

"I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency," said veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas.

"And you haven't heard the questions," Gibbs shot back.

"It doesn't matter. It's the process," CBS' Chip Reid argued. "Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or who was screened or the question was screened."

The exchange came one week after the White House drew fire for providing first-rate treatment to a Huffington Post blogger, who asked the president a question on behalf of Iranians who submitted queries to the site. The White House escorted Nico Pitney from the lower press area to the front of the main briefing room so he could be the second questioner called on during the midday press conference.

The town hall event was not the only question about transparency during Wednesday's briefing. Gibbs was also asked whether the administration was trying to minimize media attention by delaying until the July 4 holiday weekend the release of an internal CIA report on the agency's secret detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration.

"My understanding is that it's doubtful that it will be released this week," Gibb said about the 2004 report that was expected to be made public two weeks ago.

Asked whether the delay was part of an effort to make the report more transparent, Gibbs said it was a combination of transparency and legal issues.

Obama's town hall meeting in Annandale was designed to be a conversation with the public about the administration's proposed health care reforms. The town hall format is something the president has consistently relied on, both during the campaign last year and through the first few months of his presidency.
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