Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nico Pitney's Question

There are two main places that I've gone over the past week or so to get my information on Iran: the Huffington Post and The Guardian. Both news sources have bloggers who are gathering information from and about Iran and then posting that information throughout the day. (With both, click on the Iran headline and it will take you to the blog.)

It's nice to read headlines too, sure - and Roger Cohen of the New York Times also has been an important source - love Richard Engel at NBC too -

But there is something unique about what these bloggers are doing at the Guardian and the Huffington Post. And the more they do it, the more contact they receive from people on the ground in Iran, trying to ensure that accurate information makes its way out of that country and into the world. They are accessible - "email me here," it says at the top of the HuffPost's Iran blog... They are discerning (knowing which twitters and emails come from reliable sources)...

So yesterday, at a press conference, President Obama called on Nico Pitney. (Who? I know - here I'd been, reading all his stuff, and I had to figure out who, in fact the HuffPost blogger was - it's Pitney). In calling on Pitney, Obama said, “Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran. I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

And Pitney asked this, from one of the many Iranians who had been communicating with him through his blog this past week: “Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of the — of what the demonstrators there are working towards?”

Pretty darn good question. Obama's answer:

Well, look, we didn't have international observers on the ground. We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country.

What we know is that a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It's not an isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.

And so ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States.

And that's why I've been very clear — ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.

What we can do is to say, unequivocally, that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence, about dealing with the peaceful dissent, that — that spans cultures, spans borders.

And what we've been seeing over the Internet and what we've been seeing in news reports violates those norms and violates those principles.

I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that — that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.

It's an okay answer. It seems to be buying time, more than anything - which probably we need, to let things unfold. But the question was strong, and it now has given Obama something to think about. I expect that Obama will return in his mind to this question as days progress, mulling over what the ultimate answer will be - should be.

Now, here's the hullabaloo. The White House press corps is up in arms because Pitney got to ask a question. The ire spans from saying the question was planted, to even bigger conspiracies. Apparently it's irrelevant that Obama had no knowledge of the question itself - or that the idea was to get a question from an Iranian, whatever that question might be. And apparently it's irrelevant that Pitney is at the forefront of the most pressing issue of this past week (MIA SC Gov. Sanford notwithstanding).

If NBC's Richard Engel was gathering information from Iranians, and had questions from them, and was called upon by Obama, there would be no ruffle. It's the idea that a "blogger" could be doing such work that makes the whole thing controversial, in my opinion.

I've gone on line. I've read the back story. Here's what happened, from my perspective, and piecing together the puzzle:

Someone at the White House noticed, like I did - and like so many others did, like Charlie Rose and Andrew Sullivan and The Economist - that Nico Pitney was doing a fantastic job on keeping his finger on the pulse of Iran. So the White House called him two days ago and asked if he had been planning on coming to the press conference yesterday. In fact, the statement from the White House is, "We did reach out to him prior to press conference to tell him that we had been paying attention to what he had been doing on Iran and there was a chance that he’d be called on. And, he ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian." And here's Pitney's account of what happened - and how he gathered up questions the night before the press conference, then chose the best of the best so he could be asking a question that represented what Iranians wanted to know.

So hullabaloo, move over. Be grateful to Pitney instead, for all his hard work and ability and for the fact that the press conference included a question from Iran.

And thank you, Nico Pitney, for your work this past week. It's kept me informed. It's broken my heart. It's kept me emotionally tied to what the Iranian people are going through as they walk through these fires - not only of questionable elections but the silencing aftermath. And thank you for choosing a question that goes beyond the moment into the throes of tomorrow. We all need to think about what lies ahead.

No comments: