President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House on Tuesday June 23, 2009. Obama discussed health care, energy independence and his Iran policy.
For one, this was the first major news conference that Obama has had that wasn't in prime time. The last one -- two months ago -- Fox chose to skip in favor of its regular entertainment schedule. The other networks had already been grousing about the number of Obama-related interruptions of their prime-time shows. So the administration realized that it was law of diminishing returns was setting in.
But a mid-day press conference also sends a certain signal: Rather than the broad public that evening events attract, these are directed toward the Washington press corps, elite opinion-makers and partisans of various sides. They become necessary when the political game starts becoming more narrowly focused. The location of the press conference also sends a different message. It wasn't the East Room of the White House, with its long red carpet, which projects a sense of pomp and ceremony. Instead, the Briefing Room conveys a "strictly business" moment.
Another signal that the political winds are moving can be seen in the president's clearly changed tone on Iran. "Appalled and outraged" are the strongest criticisms yet on the Iranian government's crackdown on the post-election protests. While holding back on declaring that the election was stolen -- or threatening any sanctions -- this is not where the administration was only one week ago. This is several degrees removed from the attempted "neutrality" that had brought charges of "timidity" from administration opponents.
Also, in the last week, health-care reform ran into serious stumbling blocks on Capitol Hill over costs and breadth. So, it is notable that Obama pointed out that the "public option" in health insurance has a lot of support from the public.
Meanwhile, the change in tone at this press conference didn't just come from the president with respect to Iraq. It was also evident in the nature of the exchange between the president and the press. Perhaps feeling a bit defensive over charges that the media had been too easy on Obama, reporters seemed eager to mix it up this time around. While hardly a grilling, the sense of deference that had hung over previous press conferences was nowhere to be seen this time.
Even the inevitable dumb question -- this time on whether Obama was still smoking cigarettes -- had an element of J'accuse attached to it.
With the ABC News special on health care coming on Wednesday, conservatives will continue to find some circumstantial evidence that the media is favoring Obama. However, Tuesday's news conference shows that the media coverage is changing. Like the turning of the seasons, political mood swings can also be felt in the atmosphere. The reporters can feel it. So, too, can the White House. The days of Barack Obama, celebrity, are coming to an end. One might say that the true presidency of Barack Obama is actually just beginning.