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Pitney's Not A Potted Plant

Dana Milbank echoes and amplifies some of the criticism that was voiced yesterday over the White House's, uh, facilitating the Huffington Post's question from an Iranian at yesterday's presser:

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world -- Iran included -- that the American press isn't as free as advertised. [Emphasis added.]

I really don't get this line of criticism. Pitney solicited questions from Iranians that they wanted to ask Obama. The White House made sure Pitney got a chance to ask one of the questions--without knowing what the question would be. And, as I've pointed out, it was a very good and tough question--a question that Obama answered (or failed to answer) in a way that made him look bad. Yes, the whole arrangement was a violation of Washington protocol, but then the uprest in Iran--and the way news of that uprest is being spread over the Internet--is a violation of protocol as well, isn't it? If Obama wanted to take a question about Iran from an actual Iranian, the only way he could do so was to call on a member of the media who has a direct line to Iranians--and that's Pitney. It's not like he asked Obama "Why are you so awesome?" (or "Have you really quit smoking?"). It seems like the focus should be whether the question was good and whether we learned anything useful from the response Obama gave to it. I'd say yes on both counts, so this really shouldn't be a controversy.

P.S. I don't often agree with Arianna Huffington, but I think she's right here

--Jason Zengerle