President Barack Obama's traditional end-of-year press conference Friday was historic for reasons that had nothing to do with the substance of the president's comments. All eight of the reporters who questioned Obama were women—and nearly all were print reporters—an apparent first for a formal White House news conference, a venue traditionally dominated by male television correspondents.
"The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, after the event. "As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President's closely watched, end of the year news conference."
The departure was noticed throughout the room, as Obama passed over male reporters in the front row and called on their female colleagues. "This seems unprecedented for a solo White House press conference," said Towson University Presidency Scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, who tracks interactions between the president and the press corps, noting she does not recall a similar occasion in any previous administration. "It certainly is for Obama."
The list of those called on:
- Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico
- Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA
- Julie Pace, Associated Press
- Lesley Clark, McClatchy
- Roberta Rampton, Reuters
- Colleen M. Nelson, Wall Street Journal
- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
- April Ryan, American Urban Radio
Before the George H.W. Bush White House, it would have been hard to find eight women to ask questions of the president, as there weren't that many on the beat. Kumar noted that 10 women out of 21 reporters in the first three rows of the briefing room were women, the latest indication that the White House press corps is growing more diverse.
The White House informed the television networks they were unlikely to get questions at the new conference because each had asked the president questions at least twice since the midterm elections.
"It's amazing for that to happen as that room is filled with a majority men," said Ryan, who shouted out a question to the president and was acknowledged over questions shouted by male reporters. "I've been in one other historic press conference and got a question in the East Room and he called on a number of black reporters and it was amazing to be there. it was saying that maybe this room and this building is trying to reflect society and reflect America."
In that press conference, on Sept 10, 2010, Obama called on four black reporters out of 12 questioners.