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Forget the MSM, pose your own questions to President Obama

March 25, 2009 |  7:50 am

President Obama answers questions at a press conference in the White House East Room March 24, 2009

The White House is launching a new effort to reach the public without the filter of the mainstream media. So if you cringed at some of the questions posed at last night's presser by reporters accredited to cover the White House, or just wanted to ask your own, now is the time to speak up.

In fact a new White House website -- www.whitehouse.gov/openforquestions -- allows you not only to lob in some questions about the economy, but also to vote on the importance of those that have already been offered. As of this morning, 9,677 people had submitted 10,806 questions and cast 355,040 votes.

President Obama plans to address some of the questions during a special online town hall meeting Thursday morning, answering some of the most popular queries in a session that will be live-streamed on www.whitehouse.gov.

Here's the president explaining the first-ever White House event.

Already, some in the mainstream media are grumbling that the White House is, in effect, robbing them of their traditional role. And in fact the online town hall is part of a wider Obama media strategy to communicate directly with liberal audiences deemed more sympathetic to the president’s agenda than Washington-based reporters, who tend to see themselves not as messengers conveying information but as watchdogs monitoring mistakes.

So, as the politico's Jonathan Martin noted Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has done conference calls with black and Latino media organizations. Obama plans to meet soon with liberal bloggers. And the president  already has granted interviews to media outlets that rarely got their calls returned from previous administrations -- Black Enterprise magazine, Telemundo and Los Angeles-based Latino radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.

Not content to let Republican critics rail about the president's spending agenda on cable chatter shows without a rebuttal, Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s economic adviser and a favorite of the labor-liberal wing, reached out in a conference call to friendly reporters the day the $3.55-trillion budget was released. The result: some heat from the left.

Sure, Ronald Reagan and other presidents have long hit the trail to rally adoring outside-the-Beltway crowds or to give interviews to local reporters in an effort to go "over the heads" of Washington-based reporters. But Obama has two distinct advantages that his predecessors could only have dreamed of.

One is an online network of grassroots supporters, galvanized during his historic 2008 campaign, ready and eager to do battle for him. The other is the economic collapse of powerful newspapers that once set the news agenda for presidents and for television reporters in Washington.

At last night's 55-minute press conference, as a politico noted, Obama failed to call on a single reporter from any of the big newspapers -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today or, we might add, the Los Angeles Times.

Instead, in an outreach calculated to broaden the voices and topics, Obama called on (in this order) Jennifer Loven (AP), Chuck Todd (NBC), Jake Tapper (ABC), Chip Reid (CBS), Lourdes Meluza (Univision), Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes), Ed Henry (CNN), Major Garrett (Fox News), Mike Allen (Politico), Kevin Chappell (Ebony), Ann Compton (ABC Radio), Jon Ward (Washington Times) and Stephen Collinson (AFP).

It's a new day. Time for your questions now.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo:  Alex Wong / White House

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