Carney gets reporters talking football, not politics, during press gaggle

White House press secretary Jay Carney successfully spent about a quarter of Tuesday’s press conference talking about a football game, even as the president’s much-touted outreach to the Arab world is collapsing just six weeks before the 2012 election.

The traveling press corps managed to ask only seven non-football questions, according to the 1,985-word transcript provided by the White House. The gaggle’s first quarter was devoted to the president’s assessment of a disputed call during a Sept. 24 football game between the Green Bay Backers and the Seattle Seahawks.

“I have no announcements, but I do have to say that there is a pressing matter that kind of transcends all else for most Americans,” Carney said as he began the gaggle on Air Force One as it flew back from New York toward Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

Carney’s casual introduction prompted laughs from the attending reporters, two weeks after Carney began claiming that a little-known YouTube video prompted a lethal jihad attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.

“Come on. You’re not even waiting for the question, Carney,” a reporter joked with Carney.

“This morning I watched it, and it was really astounding,” continued Carney.

“And by ‘it,’ I mean the end of the Packers-Seahawks game,” he announced, 13 days after Cabinet Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was found in violation of the Hatch Act.

Since then, Sebelius has not been asked to resign and only one reporter, ABC’s Jake Tapper, has asked Carney about Sebelius.

Carney’s discussion of the Packers-Seahawks game continued for 475 words, or roughly 25 percent of the press conference.

The subject was extended by questions from the press.

Q    Does the President have a position on this?

MR. CARNEY:  As an avid sports fan and an avid football fan, he does….

Q    So the President clearly thinks it was an interception?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, he thinks that there was a real problem with the call.

Q    And the pass interference before the interception?

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t get into the details, but I think everybody who saw that play saw a number of problems with it.

The back-and-forth came the same day that top GOP leaders slammed Obama’s foreign policies, and the same day that Obama declined to meet with foreign leaders.

In 2011, he met with 13 leaders at the UN’s General Assembly, according to CBS Radio.

Carney’s successful digression was eventually truncated by 546 words of boilerplate from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, about the president’s just completed speech at the UN General Assembly.

“The president felt it was very important to address directly what has been going in the Middle East and North Africa. … And I think what you heard from the president is a very strong message to the world that that type of politics needs to be left behind if we’re going to deal with the challenges we face. … I think it was a chance for the president to step back and lift up his view of the world as it stands today and to project a vision of American leadership that deals with the challenges we face and supports our values around the world,” he said.

“And with that, I’ll take your questions,” Rhodes said, having successfully used up a second quarter of the press conference.

Together, the two officials managed to run out half of the clock at the press gaggle, with the president slightly ahead in the polls and one day closer to election day.