Staged or Not?

The White House says it did not plant questions at Wednesday’s town hall forum on the president’s health care forum.

President Obama spent about an hour talking about his plan for health reform at Northern Virginia Community College. He took a total of seven questions, three from the live audience at NVCC. You can find the video from my story here.

As it turns out, all three people the president randomly selected are working for groups that advocate for the administration’s health care proposal.

The questioners identified themselves as members of Organizing for America, Health Care for America Now and the Service Employees International Union.

One query came from Debby Smith, who described her battle with kidney cancer.

“I have no health insurance,” Smith told the president. “Now I have a new tumor and I have no way to pay for it.”

Mr. Obama responded by offering Smith a hug (right in front of all the cameras) and a promise to help her work through her insurance problems.

After the event ended, Smith told reporters that she volunteers for OFA, the president’s political organization, and that the White House called and invited her to attend. She said the question was not pre-arranged.

Later, White House officials said that it was a coincidence that the president called on people who supported his plan. The Times, the Post and Politico all reported on the topic this morning.

The debate about hand-picked audiences and pre-selected questions came to a head yesterday during the White House briefing, when Helen Thomas sparred with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. 

Here’s the link to the briefing. It’s worth a click. Scroll to 13:50 for the initial question from CBS correspondent Chip Reid.

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