Analysis: No News Is Good News

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Sixty minutes and 13 reporters' questions later and it was blatantly clear what President Obama's strategy was for his first White House press conference: stay on message.

Beginning with his trip to Elkhart, Ind., today, continuing with tonight's East Room event and with trips to Ft. Myers, Fla., and Peoria, Ill., this week, Mr. Obama's goal is to reset the message after a couple of weeks of distractions from Republican criticism and issues surrounding his cabinet nominees.

The president wasn't speaking to reporters or to Congress tonight; he was speaking to the American people, clarifying his position on the stimulus and making sure his message is heard.

Hotsheet Blog: Economic Recovery Possible By 2010
On that front, he spent the first 10 minutes of tonight's event reminding Americans why he thinks his stimulus plan will work and then proceeded to stay on track and make virtually no news during the Q & A session, seemingly by design.

When not asked directly about the economic stimulus package, he either turned his answers away from the original question back to his points about the merits of the stimulus or parried by either not answering the question or relying on statements he has made in the past.

For instance, when CBS News' Chief White House Correspondent Chip Reid asked if Mr. Obama is "moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship" after paltry-to-nonexistent GOP support in Congress for the stimulus, the president quickly pivoted to his talking points.

"I can't afford to see Congress play the usual political games. What we have to do right now is deliver for the American people," Mr. Obama said. "So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is: Send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs."

On foreign policy questions, he resorted to campaign lines.

"I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world," he said when asked what his strategy is for "engaging Iran."

Hotsheet Blog: Iran Diplomacy Possible Within Months
When asked about the how his administration plans on spending the remaining $350 billion in the financial bailout package, he twice deferred to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's news conference scheduled for tomorrow.

"I don't want to pre-empt my secretary of the treasury. He's going to be laying out these principles in great detail tomorrow," Mr. Obama said.

Even when Fox News' Major Garrett threw a curveball and asked the president what Vice President Joe Biden was referring to when he said recently, "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, if we stand up there and we really make the tough decisions, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong," Mr. Obama used it as an opportunity to repeat his talking points on the stimulus.

"[L]et me try this out. I think what Joe may have been suggesting -- although I wouldn't put numerical – I wouldn't ascribe any numerical percentage to any of this -- is that, given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution," he said. "And as I said in my introductory remarks, not everything we do is going to work out exactly as we intended it to work out. You know, this is an unprecedented problem."

Turns out, the only actual piece of "news" – something Mr. Obama hasn't weighed in on yet - during the entire hour was his response to a question about baseballer Alex Rodriguez's admission to using steroids.

"I think it's depressing news on top of what's been a flurry of depressing items when it comes to Major League Baseball. And if you're a fan of Major League Baseball, I think it -- it tarnishes an entire era, to some degree. And it's unfortunate, because I think there are a lot of ballplayers who played it straight," Mr. Obama said.

Hotsheet Blog: A-Rod News Tarnishes An Era
Whether the president ultimately succeeds in selling the economic stimulus to Americans remains to be seen. But the first day of his refocused final push surely did not create any distraction from the goal to make sure his side of the argument is heard loud and clear.

Click Here For A Full Transcript Of The Press Conference

Steve Chaggaris is the CBS News political director.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.