The White House has a scientific explanation for why reporters aren’t allowed to view President Barack Obama’s interactions with campaign donors: The very act of observing an event can change the event’s outcome.
During his Wednesday afternoon briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest cited the uncertainty principle of the German physicist Werner Heisenberg to make his point. (It appears he was actually citing the “observer effect,” not the Heisenberg principle, though both relate to quantum mechanics.)
“The goal of those q-and-a sessions is to foster a more candid and open dialogue where you have donors who are expressing their views,” Earnest said. “I think it’s the Heidenberg principle?”
Reporters quickly corrected him.
“Heisenberg, thank you for the correction,” he continued. “The Heisenberg principle, alright, the fact of someone observing something necessarily changes what’s actually being observed. And I think that’s at play in a dynamic like this where you have a relatively small group of individuals.”
The White House typically allows a pool reporter to observe Obama’s initial remarks at fund-raising events but ushers the journalist out of the room before the president takes questions from attendees. Earnest said this hit the right “balance” between competing concerns.
“What we strive to do in … is to balance the desire — and it’s a legitimate one — of the press corps to hear the president’s pitch to donors about why they should support Democratic political committees,” he said. “I think those who have been close observers of that process have found that the pitch that the president delivers in those more intimate settings is consistent with the pitch that the president delivers in bigger settings like campaign rallies.”
The reporter pressing the transparency issue, CBS’ Mark Knoller, wasn’t persuaded by Earnest’s argument, however.
“You’re offering the ‘Heisenberg Principle Defence’ to why we can’t cover the q-and-a sessions?” he asked incredulously.
“Well it’s relatively creative,” Earnest replied, “wouldn’t you think?”
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