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Questions About BP-Lockerbie Link Go Unasked and Unanswered

Barack Obama and  David Cameron

White House reporters have long complained (not that we're whiny or anything) that the two-question per side format (two questions for the foreign press, two for the U.S. press) at press conferences with foreign leaders doesn't allow us to hold their feet to the fire when they really don't answer the question. Sometimes - when the political environment is particularly difficult - they limit it to one question per side.

It's all about avoiding the tough follow-up, and it works.

Yesterday's press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron was a good example. Both leaders were able to skate away without having to confront key questions.

Cameron, for example, said that releasing the Pan Am 103 bomber was a bad decision. No kidding.

And on the question of BP's role he said: "I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government were in any way swayed by BP."

But that misses the point. The question is whether BP lobbied for al Megrahi's release in exchange for a multi-billion dollar oil deal with Libya, regardless of whether it had the intended effect. My guess is the lobbying alone would be seen as reprehensible by the American people, and Cameron needed to be asked that precise question.

(At left, watch Reid's report from the CBS Evening News)

Maybe it's our fault for not asking a more pointed question in the first place, but sometimes you need to see if and how they're going to evade a question before you can formulate a follow-up that puts them on the spot, and in these brief little encounters there isn't much opportunity to do that.

President Obama also managed to avoid tough follow-up questions. After Cameron said an inquiry isn't necessary because he doesn't need one to tell him it was a bad decision, Mr. Obama was asked if he favors an inquiry, given that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called for one.

He responded that "We should have all the facts, they should be laid out there."

He was clearly trying to avoid public disagreement with Cameron, but he needed to be put on the spot: does he disagree with Cameron on the need for an inquiry? Is he disappointed/angry/frustrated that Cameron is not calling for an inquiry? Is he concerned about claims that BP lobbied for al Megrahi's release, and if so, isn't a full inquiry needed to get to the bottom of it?

All questions that went unasked and unanswered. Score one for the White House.

Obama Wants Full Story on Lockerbie Bomber's Release
Cameron Says He Understands Anger on Gulf Spill
Cameron Tries to Shift Focus from Lockerbie

Chip Reid, CBS News chief White House Correspondent
Chip Reid, CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent CBS
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.