If you watch the White House’s version of President Obama’s signing of the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, you’ll miss the section where a reporter asks Obama a question, and the president declines to answer.
That portion of the video was on the network pool version and aired by the press on TV and online, but didn’t make it on the one cut by the White House.
The administration did however release the exchange between CBS reporter Chip Reid and President Obama in its official transcript:
“Q Speaking of press freedom, could you answer a couple of questions on BP?
THE PRESIDENT: You're certainly free to ask them, Chip.
Q Will you answer them? How about a question on Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: We won't be answering -- I'm not doing a press conference today, but we'll be seeing you guys during the course of this week. Okay?”
“I think complete posting would have been preferable, would have been the more honorable way of handling the situation,” said Boston University Journalism Professor Bob Zelnick.
While Pearl’s work for the Wall Street Journal and ultimately brutal death in a foreign country doesn’t compare to a lack of access here in the U.S., the irony is not lost on media analysts.
“Now it’s fair to keep in mind, the interrogation of poor Mr. Pearl is different in kind,” Zelnick said.
Marvin Kalb, who was a broadcast network news journalist for 30 years, says this is a great example of the fourth estate in action, “I think the value of the free press is exemplified in this story because the reporter is still able to report the entire thing.”
“I’m a great believer in openness,” added Kalb, who is also a Fox News contributor. “I think it is particularly important when it concerns the president of the United States and if a reporter [Reid] has an opportunity to ask him a question, the reporter is right in asking it, and the president ought to answer it,” Kalb said.
He also says it’s OK the White House didn't end up including a portion of the video because the reporter exchange did make the official transcript, “I think…they wanted to keep video tape focused on the issue he was addressing.”
Zelnick also notes, most administrations often change their media strategy after awhile, “The president’s refusal to answer legitimate questions from the press is uncalled for and unfortunate. Other presidents have tried for limited tactics, but then find it most costly, than worthwhile.”
Along with the video, the White House posted this description of the Pearl act: “The act helps reinforce the Nation’s commitment to press freedom around the world by directing the State Department to compile a report listing countries where such freedoms are violated.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., described the bill this way he introduced it to the House last year: “Our government must promote freedom of the press by putting on center stage those countries in which journalists are killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, threatened or censored.”
The president is scheduled to hold a news conference with Mexican President Calderón on Thursday and is expected to take a couple questions from the press.