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Obama testing pundits' patience

Barack Obama fields a question at the White House
Mr Obama faced down one uncomfortable question

Barack Obama's second televised presidential news conference saw him in combative mood, pundits and bloggers judged after his prime-time White House performance.

Online reaction was dominated by the president's minor spat with a TV reporter, his repeated calls for patience from the American people and the distinct lack of discussion of foreign affairs.

Mr Obama took 13 questions, almost exclusively focussed on domestic affairs. Most of those centred on the economic and financial crisis.

"This is a new world we're living in, after seven years of al-Qaeda, Iraq and Afghanistan," wrote Helene Cooper, live-blogging the news conference for The Caucus blog at New York Times.

"Hard to imagine a Bush press conference focusing so singularly on the economy, but then, these are clearly different times."

In the week Mr Obama's first budget heads to Congress, and with concerns growing over the pace of US economic recovery, the president appears to have lost some of his inaugural sheen.

I'm not sure it was worth the political capital of sucking-up another hour of primetime
Jonah Goldberg

Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder said Mr Obama may have hammered his economic message home but remained "defensive" on the subject of the expanding US budget deficit.

"Obama acknowledges that the deficit is going to be quite large in the future and... he wants to convince the American people that passing his 2010 budget is necessary to fix the economy.

"His argument - that they [deficits] are necessary for change - hasn't evolved much from the campaign, and his vague promises about Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security reform could have come from the lips of any politician."

'Media harping'

If a White House news conference can be said to have a flashpoint, Tuesday's came amid questioning over the scale of bonuses paid to executives of bailed-out insurer AIG.

Barack Obama addresses reporters at the White House, Washington DC, 24 March 2009
Pundits doubt US TV networks will give Obama more free air time

Reporters "harped constantly on the deficit", noted Mike Madden on Salon.com, "practically ignoring Obama's remarks on how he would spend federal money in order to ask him why he would spend so much of it".

And when a CNN correspondent pressed Mr Obama on the time it took him to respond to the AIG issue, the president issued a swift retort.

"It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak," he said.

On the Washington Post's 44 blog, Ben Pershing credited both reporter and president: "Forceful at several moments, the president reserved his strongest answer for what turned out to be the sharpest question of the night."

For Newsday's Dan Janison, the exchange was "one of those political inkblot tests" destined to be interpreted differently by supporters of different political creeds.

'Toned down'

Two months into Mr Obama's administration, clear scepticism about the president's handling of the economic crisis is beginning to emerge.

Jonah Goldberg, blogging at the National Review Online, gave the president a B-grade for Monday night's routine.

"He didn't hurt himself, but I don't see how he helped himself. He still seems presidential, even though he was often longwinded.

"He had some good answers and some bad, politically speaking. But it was unmemorable in the end and I'm not sure it was worth the political capital of suckingup another hour of primetime."

That was a view echoed by former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, debating the night's events at Politico.com.

"I think we may have seen the last 'freebie' tonight," McCurry wrote. "The major networks will not give up a narrow prime-time, revenue-generating hour for an occasion whence the president rehearses a prepared (even important) message."

Even the left-leaning Huffington Post conceded that Mr Obama was now toning things down at a time of great national concern.

"Even when the topic ventured into the realm of international relations, the president brought the discussion right back to the home front," Sam Stein wrote.

"In what served as a crescendo to the whole event, he addressed a question on the status of Israeli-Palestinian relations by, in essence, asking the public for a bit of patience."

Back at Politico, Jeff Emmanuel from RedState.com said both president and press left him wanting more.

"Sooner or later the press will begin asking Mr Obama why he seems almost allergic to specifics in anything he says, be it answer, speech, or policy proposal.

"This was not that night."



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