Toward the end of the press conference, the question of Goolsbee’s meeting was raised again. Obama answered curtly and then walked out after a staffer called last question. The press erupted with shouts, but Obama continued to walk out.
He paused only to say, “Come on guys; I answered like eight questions. We’re running late.â€
On the flight from San Antonio to Dallas, Obama, unsurprisingly, did not wander back to make small talk with the traveling press corps.
Yesterday, I idly wondered when Obama would start addressing the numerous questions about his relationship with indicted Chicago fixer Tony Rezko. The candidate’s press availability was starting to become an issue and I surmised that with the Rezko trial beginning yesterday, sooner or later Obama would have to bite the bullet and face some tough questions.
For fifteen very uncomfortable minutes yesterday, we got a preview of what’s in store for Obama from here on out in the campaign:
Led by the Chicago press corps that has covered Obama for years, the candidate today faced a barrage of questions in what turned out to be a contentious news conference.
Questions centered on why his campaign had denied that a meeting occurred between his chief economic advisor and Canadian officials as well as questions on his relationship with Tony Rezko, a Chicago land developer and fast food magnate, now on trial for corruption charges.
Obama claimed that when he had first denied the meeting between Austan Goolsbee and any members of the Canadian administration he provided “the information that [he] had at the time.”
He added, “Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to reassure them. They reached out, unbeknownst to the rest of us; They reached out to Mr. Goolsbee, who provided them with a tangible conversation and repeated what we’ve said on the campaign trail.”
When did the meeting take place? Why did the Canadian officials reach out? Did Goolsbee not come forward right away and admit the meeting to Campaign Manager David Plouffe and Obama when both denied it last week? These are questions that went unanswered as the press conference was cut short.
Much of the back and forth, though, between reporters and Obama was about his relationship with Tony Rezko, with reporters demanding to know why new details were emerging from the case though Obama and his staff had claimed they had been forthright with all the details.
Indeed, what made this press conference different for Obama was the presence of a cadre of Chicago journalists who have been on the Rezko-Obama story from the beginning.
Carol Marin – TV news editor but a first class print journalist as well – along with Chris Fusco and Tim Novak of the Sun Times have been ferreting out the details of this very complex relationship between the candidate and the crook for more than 2 years. And Marin especially made life hell for Obama yesterday:
Obama and Carol Marin, political editor at NBC5 in Chicago and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, tangled over how up front Obama had been about Rezko. Obama cut off her line of questioning, saying that Marin’s questions were personally motivated.
“Carol, can I just say I have to really dispute this,â€ Obama said. â€œIt is true that you wanted an individual sit down, but I don’t think that’s fair to speak for the entire Chicago press corps because on this—Let me finish,” he interjected as she tried to interrupt.
â€œBefore you were reporting on these issues I had an avail,â€ Obama said, pointing to members of the Chicago press corps who were present, â€œwhere I literally stood there and took every question people could think of.”
Lynn Sweet from the Chicago Sun-Times then jumped in and told Obama that he may have answered questions for the Chicago press, but many other reporters hadn’t had a chance to hear him on the issue.
“I just want to make that point an issue,” Obama said. “You may still have questions, which I’m happy to answer, but I don’t think it’s fair to suggest somehow that we’ve been trying to hide the ball on this. There have been more attacks. There have been several hundred stories written on this issue. The fact of the matter remains unchallenged.”
Here’s the problem for Obama and the press; that “avail” (shorthand for an unscheduled press conference or “candidate availability”) was not with reporters on the Rezko-Obama beat but with embedded campaign reporters. Also, that avail only scratched the surface of the real estate transaction involving Obama and Rezko and did not address issues that have come up since then such as Obama’s assistance to Rezko that got his client a contract to build senior housing – a favor that gave Rezko a windfall of $855,000 in fees.
Nor has the candidate addressed numerous other issues relating to the purchase of his house, the possible intervention of the senator with the State Department to secure a visa for Rezko business partner and convicted fraudster Nadhmi Auchi, or exactly what kind of legal work Obama performed for Rezko’s slumlord management company while he was with a law firm doing business with Rezko.
The modus operandi of the campaign in the past has been to request written questions that would be submitted by reporters to the campaign and answered in due course. Or just as often, the questions are ignored or dismissed as having been answered already as the candidate did yesterday.
So it’s not surprising that when Obama was made available to the press with the Rezko wrecking crew of Chicago reporters present, fireworks would ensue. If you asked that contingent of Chicago reporters where this story was headed, they would probably tell you that they had yet to hit bottom and that other issues such as Obama’s relationships with Rezko cronies have yet to be fleshed out and explored. Some of those cronies also donated monies to his campaigns for state senate and the US senate and it remains to be seen if there were any favors exchanged as a result of those contributions.
But is this what we can expect from the candidate in the future? Tantrums and sulks just because the press is trying to do its job? Ed Morrissey compares John McCain’s presser the day after the New York Times smear against him:
Compare this to the press conference John McCain held after the New York Times smeared him by accusing him of having a sexual affair with a lobbyist. Not only did McCain â€” whose temper has its own zip code, according to some Capitol Hill staffers â€” give a lengthy and reserved statement, but then stood at the podium until the reporters ran out of questions. In fact, at the end, McCain had to ask twice whether anyone had anything else to ask him before leaving the podium.
By my count, McCain answered 36 questions in this press conference. How many did Obama take before walking off in a huff?
I would say to Barack Obama that after next Tuesday’s Mississippi primary, there is a lull in the campaign until the Pennsylvania showdown on April 22 (assuming Hillary Clinton wins either Ohio or Texas). It would be well to try and get ahead of the Rezko issue by making yourself more available to those who are covering the story in Chicago and answering questions that have been avoided or ignored. Otherwise, your campaign will be in reaction mode until the November election.
And as the drip, drip, drip of revelations continue, your prospects for victory diminish substantially.
Karl at PW also notes the Chicago cadre of reporters – most notably from the Sun Times – who tried to hold Obama’s feet to the fire yesterday but were dismissed in Marin’s case as trying to promote some kind of personal agenda.
Karl notes Marin’s bio where she quit NBC 5 because they hired Jerry Springer to give “commentary” on the news. Marin’s resignation (and co-anchor Ron Magers threatened resignation) doomed Springer’s run at WMAQ to 4 days.