During today’s White House press conference, spokesman Jay Carney clashed with NBC News’ Chuck Todd over federal shield laws and President Barack Obama’s alleged flip-flop on journalistic protections.
Fielding some tough inquiries about Benghazi, the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and the Department of Justice’s tracking of journalists’ phone records, Carney repeated familiar talking points throughout the presser and attempted to rebuff blame waged against the president and his administration.
The first question inquired about the Obama administration’s leadership, with a reporter noting that the president and Carney have continuously dismissed critics, accusing them of political motivation (Benghazi), while also blaming bureaucrats (IRS). That in mind, the reporter asked about tone and whether Obama should bear some responsibility for the scandals simply because he is the head of the federal government.
“The responsibility to set tone and to focus on priorities of the American people is absolutely [the responsibility of the president] and you see and hear him do that every day,” Carney responded, going on to claim that it’s important to look at each of the three current purported scandals separately for maximum understanding.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PHONE RECORDS SCANDAL
Later during the press conference, NBC News’ Chuck Todd got into a spirited debate with Carney over proposed legislation to protect journalists — legislation that the reporter argued would have prevented the most recent incident surrounding the AP.
After initially supporting federal shield laws before becoming president, Todd claimed that Obama inevitably killed the Free Flow of Information Act, which would have protected journalists from situations like we see developing this week between the AP and the administration. Here’s a transcript of the spirited debate between Todd and Carney — one that explains the overarching issues at length:
Todd: You keep talking about then Sen .Obama supported a certain piece of legislation that, in fact, as president he killed that piece of legislation in October of 2009 — and made it so that the protections he supported, having judicial review … there was an opportunity to have this bill passed … and he said the White House had problems with it and he killed it.
Carney: First of all, you’re talking about separate pieces of legislation and a legislative history that bears a little more looking into. The president’s position on this is what it was as a senator. But the fact is I cannot then appropriately apply his support for that measure –
Todd: If he supported that piece of legislation, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today because he supported a judicial review that seemed to settle this –
Carney: And what happened to it in 2007?
Todd: I’m asking you what happen in 2009 when he was president of the United States.
Carney: The legislative history here is a little more complicated that you represent.
Todd: Who cares about 2010, we know what he said on the campaign trail in 2008 in front of the Associated Press when it came to this issue. He had a chance to support this and make this bill happen … The admin said that essentially the president changed his position because of certain things on national security. Can you explain why?
Carney: Broadly speaking, the president does support the ability of journalists in an unfettered way to pursue investigative journalism. He believes we have to find a balance between that goal –
Todd: …He believed it in ’08, but he didn’t believe it once he was president. [...]
Carney went on to say that Obama has responsibility to ensure that information is not leaked and that the American public and national security are protected. Todd, though, argued that having a third-party watchdog decide these journalistic cases would make the most sense and would have been covered by the shield law.
Watch this exchange, below:
As far as the AP scandal goes, the spokesperson said that Obama “is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a free flow of information.” Additionally, Carney said that the president also has to balance this purported penchant for free speech with the need for the Justice Department to investigate criminal activity.
Watch Carney make these statements, below:
“The president feels strongly that we need the press to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism,” he later added.
And here is the press secretary’s quip about Fox News, when asked what is stopping Obama from calling Attorney General Eric Holder and asking what might have unfolded surrounding the AP scandal:
THE IRS SCANDAL
On the IRS front, Carney noted that Obama has little patience for the “reports” of troubling and partisan behavior, leading numerous journalists to note that officials have already admitted to targeting conservative groups. Despite this fact, Carney pushed back and noted that the administration would wait until an independent investigation has been undertaken to fully comment on the issue.
“[Obama] has no tolerance for the targeting about specific groups, conservative groups … and he would expect action to be taken,” Carney said. “But this is a matter when it comes to the IRS that is under review by the inspector general.”
Repeatedly, Carney refused to delve deeply into the ongoing investigations into both the IRS and the AP scenarios.
“All I can tell you is that I cannot and he cannot comment specifically about an ongoing criminal investigation or actions that … the Justice Department may or may not have taken,” he said specifically of the AP situation.
At one point a reporter questioned a comparison surrounding Obama that was recently touted — that the unfolding scandals are similar to the scenario that occurred under President Richard Nixon.
“People who make those kinds of comparisons need to check their history,” he said, going on to again dub Benghazi a “political sideshow” that is a “deliberate effort to politicize a tragedy.”
“Everything becomes a huge political issue when if you look at the facts and I think Benghazi is instructive in this,” Carney said. “The real issue is that four Americans died and we need to do everything … to finding out why.”