At Wednesday’s press conference, President Obama called on only three women out of the 10 reporters from whom he took questions. The answer to every question asked by a woman made news, with Lynn Sweet’s end-with-a-bang query on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., winning the night for news-making. Questions from male reporters yielded nothing new.
At town hall meetings, President Obama likes to alternate by gender the questions he takes: “Girl boy; girl, boy,” as he says. Presidential press conferences are another matter. At last night’s prime-time event, it wasn’t until the evening was half-way through that the president got around to calling on a female reporter: one of three women whose questions he answered out of a total of 10 reporters he called on. And the reporters called on are white.
To be fair to Obama, this has more to do with the color and character of mainstream media than it does with anything else. When you’ve got a big night, as Obama did, you’re going to make sure you take the questions of the reporters from the two big wire services (AP and Reuters), and the three broadcast news divisions (NBC, CBS and ABC). And all those outlets sent white guys to represent them. If the complexity of the topic at hand means that you only take 10 questions total, five are already taken by the aforementioned white guys.
But what made last night so interesting was that the men’s questions were quite predictable, while the questions from Christi Parsons, Julianna Goldman and Lynn Sweet were anything but.