Less than two weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder was largely rebuffed by the media when he scheduled an off-the-record meeting to discuss the DOJ’s leak investigations, the White House used the old bait and switch tactic with President Obama’s unscheduled appearance at a meeting that was billed as a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Buzzfeed, which originally reported on the meeting, said that about two dozen reporters from The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, TIME, McClatchy, Politico, the Tribune Papers, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today and AFP were waiting in the briefing room to talk with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough when Obama made his surprise appearance.
This was a highly unusual move for Obama. Buzzfeed speculated that he wanted to avoid the possibility of a Holder-like reaction, and have news outlets refuse to appear for the “schmooze” session.
Most of those in attendance were tight-lipped about the meeting, though New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker told Buzzfeed that reporters were not aware the President would be attending the session. Baker explained that if he had been made aware of Obama’s appearance, he and his editors “would have reconsidered whether to attend.”
“Our concern about off-the-record sessions with the president is that they not become substitutes for opportunities to ask questions and get answers on the record, which after all is our job,” he added.
Normally reporters wouldn’t mind a chance to speak with the president off-the-record, but this impromptu meeting comes at a time when they are trying to get to the bottom of the various scandals surrounding the White House. This looks more like an attempt by Obama to avoid being asked the tough and potentially embarrassing questions in public and on the record.