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Is Obama As Bad As Bush . . .

. . . when it comes to dealing with the press? Dana Milbank thinks so:

A month from now, the nation will say farewell to its sports-obsessed president who doesn't like tough questions. And it will replace him with, well, another sports-obsessed president who doesn't like tough questions. 

"I did not select Arne because he's one of the best basketball players I know," President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday, introducing Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan. "Although I will say that I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing Cabinet in American history, and I think that is worth noting."

The nominee, one of the half a dozen accomplished basketball players suiting up for Obama's inner circle, made reference to his time as a professional hoopster in Australia.

But the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick didn't want to talk basketball. He wanted to know about contacts that Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"John, John, let me just cut you off," Obama interrupted, "because I don't want you to waste your question." The president-elect said the "facts are going to be released next week" -- when he, by random coincidence, will be enjoying Christmas vacation in Hawaii -- and "it would be inappropriate for me to comment" before then. "So, do you have another question?"

McCormick tried to rephrase the question, to no avail. "John, John," Obama repeated, reproachfully. "I said, the U.S. attorney's office specifically asked us not to release this until next week."

There's no denying Obama's team has an impressive starting five: Duncan (6-foot-5), incoming national security adviser James Jones and body man Reggie Love (both 6-foot-4) all played college basketball, while Attorney General-designate Eric Holder and U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice played high school ball. But Obama's response to Blagojevich questions has been decidedly junior varsity. Begging off because of an ongoing investigation? Hiding behind Patrick Fitzgerald's skirt? Warning a reporter not to "waste" a question and asking for an alternative question? All four techniques were popularized by Bush. 

I think this is unfair for a couple of reasons. First, Obama held his press conference to introduce Duncan as the man he's chosen to head up the Department of Education. Dana says this was akin to "insomnia treatment," and I concede that the Blago scandal is certainly more entertaining; but, in the annals of what's important, I'd say that the country's education policy tops the legal travails of a midwestern governor. Is it really too much to expect the press to ask Obama some questions about education during a press conference held to unveil his Secretary of Education?

Second, Obama didn't hide behind Fitzgerald's skirt to dodge McCormick's question, and Obama didn't time the release of his campaign's report so that he'd be in Hawaii when it came out. Unless, that is, Dana has evidence that Obama planned all this with Fitzgerald, since it was Fitzgerald who requested that Obama hold off releasing the report until next. Now, it is convenient for Obama that Fitzgerald did this? Sure. But it's not like he's just inventing excuses to not answer Blago questions.

--Jason Zengerle