By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama not only made a little news at his annual year-end news conference Friday, he appears to have made history.
For the first time in recent memory, the president called only on female journalists — eight in a row — during an extended question-and-answer session at the White House. The lineup appeared to be a landmark moment for a press corps with a history of being a boys’ club, where high-profile female correspondents were the exception, not the rule.
Friday was a reminder of how much has changed. The president began with a question from Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico and continued with reporters from Bloomberg BNA, Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and American Urban Radio Networks. All were women. The group represented a mix of major news outlets and smaller organizations. Notably, television correspondents, who sometimes dominate the news conferences and daily media briefings, were shut out.
Though at least one brief news conference overseas saw one or two questions from only women, for a formal session at the White House, this appeared to be the first.
“In my 40 years, I’m sure there was never a full news conference where only women were called on,” said ABC News’ Ann Compton, who retired this year. Compton said the choices were also notable because they represented “core White House regulars” — beat reporters who cover the president full time.
That group has gradually grown to include plenty of female faces. Women regularly fill close to half the seats in the briefing room and have made a majority of the small band of reporters that follow the president when he travels. The Tribune Washington Bureau’s Christi Parsons serves as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
The list of reporters the president calls on at formal news conferences is often predetermined by the White House and given to the president as a list. (On Friday, Obama described it as the “Who’s been naughty, and who’s been nice” list.)
One White House official said the choices were made by White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“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,” Earnest said in a statement after the news conference. “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.”
Earnest notified television networks before the news conference that they would be left out. In an email, he wrote that each of the networks had been able to ask the president two questions since last month’s midterm elections and all but one, Fox News, has gotten a one-on-one interview in that time.
“We’re going to give an opportunity to reporters from outlets that have NOT gotten to ask (Obama) a question since the election — without putting you at a competitive disadvantage,” he told the television reporters.
Photo: President Obama speaks at a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)