- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Obama during his White House press conference Tuesday recognized the power of new technology in Iran’s massive street protests by soliciting a question from a blogger who has been gathering information and queries from Tehran online.

Mr. Obama upended the established media order as well by giving Nico Pitney, from the liberal Huffington Post Web site, the second question of his press conference.

“I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” Mr. Obama said, after answering his first question from the Associated Press, which is the longstanding tradition.

But current protocol also calls for rival news wire Reuters to get the second question, followed by the major TV networks and then the country’s leading newspapers.

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Mr. Obama called on Reuters after Mr. Pitney but then continued to disrupt the regular order by calling on a reporter from Fox News, the conservative cable TV network, fourth, and then on a reporter from USA Today, followed only then by the big three networks.

Mr. Pitney has been live-blogging on events as they happen in Iran since protests erupted after the disputed June 12 elections in which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

Much of Mr. Pitney’s work has been to aggregate videos as they are uploaded to YouTube by users in Iran, as well as notes on Twitter and e-mail sent from inside the heavily-censored Islamic country.

The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan has also been a key online destination for readers looking for video and first-person accounts from Iran.

The role of the new Internet messaging and video sites in circumventing the Tehran’s government censors and distributing information about the uprising against the government has become a major story over the last week.

“All across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said he had watched a video released on the Internet of a 26-year old Iranian women, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and killed by security forces during a protest on Saturday.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Mr. Obama said.

“I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?” Mr. Obama asked Mr. Pitney.

Mr. Pitney asked the president if he was betraying the protesters by not withdrawing an offer to sit down with Iran’s government for negotiations. The president skirted around the question by saying that the U.S. government cannot say with certainty that the election was illegitimate.

One reporter who attended the press briefing noted on his Twitter feed that Pitney said he’d been called by the White House earlier in the day Tuesday and invited to ask a question about Iran.

The president has spotlighted Huffington Post before, during his first White House press conference in February, when he called on reporter Sam Stein.

The White House has parceled out questions at these full-fledged press conferences with calculating particularity, using the prized spotlight moments to both play with press corps egos and send signals about their own view of the changing media power dynamic.

Mr. Obama’s top communications advisers have said in interviews that they view the media landscape as dramatically different than it was just years ago, with power ebbing away from traditional outlets.

The president himself on Tuesday showed that he does not feel obligated to play by rules of the new information age and cater to the Web’s appetite for fresh content.

“I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not,” Mr. Obama said as reporters badgered him to spell out threatened consequences for Iran if they continue to violently suppress dissent.

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