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Rahm Emanuel’s grin…

By Dana Milbank

Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

In his first daytime news conference yesterday, President Obama preempted “All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless.” But the soap viewers shouldn’t have been disappointed: The president had arranged some prepackaged entertainment for them.

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. “I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet,” Obama went on. “Do you have a question?”

Pitney recognized his prompt. “That’s right,” he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. “I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.”

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn’t so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, “The Obama Show.” Missed yesterday’s show? Don’t worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting “Good Morning America” from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), “World News Tonight” from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

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