Press Corps, ‘American Idol’ Style

Slate’s John Dickerson has given away the questions he hopes to ask President Bush during his press conference today. Why would Dickerson tip his hand? “I’m revealing them in advance because: a) he never calls on me anymore, anyhow; and b) the ‘gotcha’ aspect of presidential press conferences is highly overdone. These are essay, not pop quiz, questions.”

Dickerson lays out four open-ended questions about contradictions in Bush’s positions on Lebanon, Israel and democracy in the Middle East. If Dickerson is right, and he doesn’t get called, it would seem unlikely that anyone would use a precious chance to ask the president a question some other guy wrote. This has never made much sense to us, since everyone in the room still has access to the same answers — there are no scoops, so why not ask the best question, whether it’s yours or someone else’s? Still, given the criticism from the likes of Dan Froomkin and Helen Thomas, perhaps some cooperation would be an interesting experiment for the WH press corps.

Before the next press conference they could post a set of questions on a neutral site, say CJR. These would be thoughtful, detailed questions. As Dickerson says about his list, “These are essay, not pop quiz, questions. It’s not cheating for Bush to think about how he might answer them ahead of time.” Anyone could vote for the top five questions they wanted asked, and the five would be announced the morning of the conference. Imagine weeks of build up as pundits and editorial pages debate the questions. Imagine the suspense as the nation tunes in to get answers to the questions it most wants answers to. Imagine the furor if the president cancelled the conference after seeing the questions.

Frankly, the networks would be crazy NOT to do this. Especially if they can get Simon Cowell to rate the answers.