WASHINGTON — President Obama on Thursday grudgingly faced his first full-blown East Room news conference at the White House in almost a year, and it was no love-fest.
A press corps that was accused early in his administration of treating him with kid gloves has grown increasingly critical of its limited access to him, and the result Thursday was an aggressive and skeptical line of inquiry.
Obama dislikes formal but unpredictable news conferences. He prefers shorter, more controlled interactions with hand-picked journalists and leaks to elite news organizations, and his communications team uses new tools such as blogging and Twitter to bypass the media.
However, the public backlash to the BP oil spill and the federal government's inability to stop it after five weeks has put the hurt on Obama's public standing, and compelled him to present himself for questions.
The press wasn't initially aggressive about questioning the administration's response to the spill, but had turned hostile by the end of last week as evidence mounted that BP — unchallenged by the administration — was underestimating the size of the spill.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs brought Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who's coordinating the response, to take questions Monday. Three days later, it was Obama's turn.
From Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press: "What do you say about whether your personal involvement, your personal engagement has been as much as it should be either privately or publicly?"
From Jake Tapper of ABC News: "You say that everything that could be done is being done. But there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that's not true."
From McClatchy's Steven Thomma: "Did you really act from day one for a worst-case scenario?"
Other questions covered topics including the war in Afghanistan, the resignation of the head of the Minerals Management Service, immigration and what, precisely, the White House offered Rep. Joe Sestak to try to get him to stay out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.
The president took his lumps, stood his ground, took responsibility and told Americans he's been fully engaged in the oil spill response from the start. He said those who say he wasn't don't know what they're talking about.