It was a bookend moment. President Barack Obama on Monday evening became the 10th American president to call on Helen Thomas at a White House news conference. And the first one to call on Sam Stein, a reporter for the Internet publication the Huffington Post.
For years, Thomas has held the honorific title of dean of the White House press corps. At 88, she has been questioning presidents since John F Kennedy.
“All right, Helen, this is my inaugural moment here,” Obama said with a grin as he turned toward Thomas’ seat in the front row of the East Room. “I’m really excited.”
Thomas, now a columnist for Hearst newspapers, did not return the pleasantry. She plunged directly into her question, wondering if Pakistan was maintaining safe havens in Afghanistan for “these so-called terrorists.” And, she added, did any country in the Middle East have nuclear weapons?
Obama glided through the questions without making any obvious news. Then he turned to Stein, 26, who last month became the White House correspondent for his new publication.
“Are you willing to rule out — right here and now — any prosecution of Bush administration officials?” Stein said, asking whether Obama intended to endorse an investigation by a so-called Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
As he did with Thomas, Obama essentially bypassed the question, saying, “My general orientation is to say let’s get it right moving forward.”
Not much of an answer, but the very fact that he took a question from Stein signalled another shift in the ever-evolving news media landscape.