WASHINGTON -- I asked President Obama what turned out to be a provocative question at his press conference on Wednesday night -- well, it was his answer that was really provocative -- about the arrest of noted Harvard African-American studies Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
I asked,"What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?"
Obama's answer included a soundbite picked up by scores of outlets, whether print, TV, radio or on the Web. Said Obama, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."
Obama's answer also triggered a storm of questions to me -- by other reporters, readers e-mailing me and commenting on my blog about how and why I came to ask about Gates.
No conspiracy, folks.
When President Obama called on me, he had no idea what I would be asking. I had not written or blogged about the Gates incident, so no one in the White House had any clue that I was particularly interested in Obama's reaction.
I got a call from the White House press office about 6:30 p.m. confirming I was indeed going to show up at the 8 p.m. press conference. I was told I "may" get a question from the president. No one asked me -- directly or indirectly -- about what I may be asking. No one from the White House tried to plant any question.
By calling a prime time news conference, Obama got a chance to read a statement at the beginning pushing Congress to pass his health-care reform proposals.
But the White House did not set this up as a health-care-only press conference. There was no mandate on reporters who attended to ask questions about health care.
Ten journalists asked questions, including me; seven had health-care questions, three asked about other topics. The Sun-Times and Tribune Co. reporters both got questions -- the pairing of the rivals was by White House design.
Obama gave me the last question. I had no control over the timing. There was no chance for a follow-up. If I was called on earlier in the press conference, I may have asked about health care. I thought it was appropriate at the end to bring up another matter in the news--the Gates arrest. I would have posed the same question to President Bush.
Some saw a plot because I read my question. I do write them down for a White House press conference. No plot. I want to be concise.