Here's Helen, jumping in to assist CBS' Chip Reid, going after White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs over the hypocrisy of the "open and transparent" Obama administration engaging in staged press events and tightly-controlled town halls. And Helen is about the only, if not the only, person in that press room who earned the right to ask these questions without a snarky comment demanding to know where she was during the Bush administration—because she was right there, doing the same thing, back then, in her usual fearless, tough, uncompromising, principled way. Love her.
[Full transcript below.]
On the one hand, I understand the administration's desire to orchestrate certain events during important political fights; the last thing they want is healthcare reform derailed because some Joe the Plumber wannabe asks some idiotic question and gets turned into a national icon by the opposition, too stupid to know he's a corporate stooge. On the other hand, promising "openness and transparency" and then having highly-controlled events makes them look like idiots. If you don't want to have a legitimate town hall, but some half-assed approximation of a town hall with the mere illusion of being unscripted, maybe just don't have one at all, you know? Maybe just have a "Q&A with America" or wev.
The administration's attitude about being questioned on this stuff is ridiculous, btw. I can't believe they have the temerity to act surprised and offended that the press is challenging them on media control when they didn't challenge the Bush administration. Well, yeah—the media should have challenged the Bush administration, but here's the thing: You promised to be different, remember? When you coast into office on the promise of change, and then act exactly the same as the last guys, you're going to get grilled on it—and deservedly so. Duh.
Chip Reid: —university, I mean, invited by this community college, as it was explained to us.
Gibbs: Well, if the university is –
Reid: It just feels very tightly controlled. It feels – I mean, the concept of a town hall, I think, is to have an open public forum, and this sounds like a very tightly controlled audience and a list of questions. Why, why do it that why? Why not open it up to the public?
Gibbs: How about we do this – how about you can 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.
Reid: But why pre-select? Why not just open it up to people and allow any question to come in?
Gibbs: Well, Chip, I think if you get on your computer from your e-mail address –
Reid: I have. I have.
Gibbs: Have you sent in your question?
Reid: I think that would be inappropriate. This is for the public.
Gibbs: I'm sorry, I'm confused – are you not a member of the public?
Reid: Well, I think if you were going to allow questions from the press, you'd have us in a prominent position over there and allow us to ask questions – you haven't done that.
Gibbs: Let's not get into the notion of where you'd be sitting [laughter] if I let you ask a question, but –
Reid: Well out of shouting range.
Gibbs: Well, but you could e-mail.
Reid: Would you put my question in there? I don't think so!
Gibbs: Maybe. Have you e-mailed?
Reid: I mean, this is a town hall.
Gibbs: It's a little – if you haven't e-mailed.
Reid: This is an open forum for the public to ask questions, but it's not really open.
Gibbs: I couldn't agree more.
Reid: But it's not open.
Gibbs: Based on what?
Reid: Based on the information that your staff gave us on how the audience and the questions are being selected.
Gibbs: The questions are being selected by people that e-mail on Facebook and Twitter.
Reid: Well, they're not deciding what questions actually get in.
Gibbs: Well, Chip, I appreciate, again –
Reid: It just feels totally controlled –
Gibbs: I appreciate, again –
Reid: – in a way unlike his town meetings all through the campaign and –
Gibbs: I appreciate the pre-selected question on your part.
Female reporter off-screen: Will there be dissenting views, I think that's an issue –
Reid: Yes, how about that?
Gibbs: I think that's a very safe bet. But, again, let's – how about we do this? I promise we will interrupt the AP's tradition of asking the first question. I'll let you ask me a question tomorrow as to whether you thought the questions at the town hall meeting that the President conducted at Annandale –
Reid: I'm perfectly happy to –
Helen Thomas: That's not his point. The point is the control –
Thomas: – we have never had that in the White House. And we have had some, but not –
REID: This White House.
Gibbs: Yes, I was going to say; I'll let you amend her question.
Thomas: – and I'm amazed – I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency and –
Gibbs: Helen, you haven't even heard the questions.
Reid: It doesn't matter. It's the process.
Thomas: You have left open –
Reid: Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or was screened, or the question was screened.
Thomas: It's shocking. It's really shocking.
Gibbs: Chip, Chip, let's have this discussion at the conclusion of the town hall meeting. How about that?
Gibbs: I think –
Thomas: No, no, no, we're having it now, because –
Gibbs: Well, I'd be happy to have it now.
Thomas: It's a pattern.
Gibbs: Which question did you object to at the town hall meeting, Helen?
Thomas: It's a pattern. It isn't the questions –
Gibbs: What's a pattern?
Thomas: It's a pattern of controlling the press.
Gibbs: How so?! Is there any evidence currently going on that I'm controlling the press? [laughter] Poorly, I might add. [Gibbs giggles]
Thomas: Your formal engagements are pre-packaged.
Gibbs: How so?
Reid: Well, and controlling the public –
Thomas: How so? By calling reporters the night before to tell them they're going to be called on? That is shocking.
Gibbs: We had this discussion ad nauseam and –
Thomas: Of course you would, because you don't have any answers.
Gibbs: Well, because I didn't know you were going to ask a question, Helen. Go ahead.
Thomas: Well, you should have.
Reid: Thank you for your support, Helen.
Male reporter off-screen: I'm just going to wait for Helen –
Gibbs: That's good. Have you e-mailed your question today?
Thomas: I don't have to e-mail it. I can tell you right now what I want to ask. [laughter]
Gibbs: I don't doubt that at all, Helen. I don't doubt that at all.
Reid: Actually, could you pass along a question to the President from all of us; is he going to support a tax increase on the middle class?
Gibbs: I will – if you get on your computer, you can, you can, you can ask him that yourself.
Reid: I think you're a more direct pipeline than –
Gibbs: I don't know. I was just told that you guys have a pretty good – go ahead.