He seated a left-wing radio host in the coveted front row. He called on a liberal blogger from the Huffington Post. He even brought far-left columnist Helen Thomas out of the wilderness and let her ruminate about "so-called terrorists."
Clearly, President Obama was making a point of showing deference to the Left at his first prime-time press conference, which was broadcast to millions from the stately East Room of the White House on Monday.
Longtime members of the White House press corps who are accustomed to sitting in the front row of presidential press conferences were surprised to find their prime real estate occupied by Ed Schultz, a strident liberal who hosts a nationally syndicated radio program originally based in Fargo, N.D., but of late broadcasting from the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
During last year's presidential campaign, Schultz warmed up the audience for Obama at a Democratic fundraiser in Fargo by denouncing Republican opponent John McCain as a "warmonger." When Obama took the podium, he thanked Schulz and called him "the voice of progressive radio," although the campaign was later pressured into distancing itself from Schultz's inflammatory remarks.
Critics also accused Schultz of carrying water for Obama during the candidate's presidential primary battle against fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. During one TV appearance, Schultz went after Clinton's husband in order to defend Obama.
"Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama's record," he said. "He lied 10 years ago about Monica Lewinsky and he's lying about a very viable candidate and somebody who could really bring change to this country."
On Monday, Schultz was seated next to Thomas, who was once the doyenne of the White House press corps. During President George W. Bush's tenure, Thomas went from correspondent to columnist, thereby losing her front row perch in East Room press conferences. In her speeches, Thomas has branded Bush the "worst president in American history."
On Monday, Obama returned Thomas to the front row and made her one of 13 people given the opportunity to question him.
"All right, Helen -- this is my inaugural moment here," Obama said with exaggerated reverence. "I'm really excited."
Thomas asked a rambling question about "maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists."
Obama also called on Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, a hard-left Web site that has never before been recognized by a president. Stein asked whether Obama would pursue "prosecution of Bush administration officials."
Critics pointed out that Bush never showcased right-wing bloggers or columnists at press conferences. And he certainly never allowed right-wing radio hosts to sit in the front row.
During Bush's press conferences, reporters aggressively tried to ask numerous follow-up questions. But on Monday night, aside from Thomas and Major Garrett of FOX News, most reporters refrained from asking follow-ups, even when their initial questions went largely unanswered.
"The reporters' questions were direct, succinct and restrained, with none of the showmanship that has sometimes marked past news conferences," media critic Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post wrote approvingly. "The journalists stopped short of confrontation, as though they were sobered by the gravity of the financial crisis."
Bill Sammon is the Washington, D.C., deputy managing editor of FOX News Channel.
Bill Sammon is FOX News Channel's (FNC) vice president of News and Washington managing editor.