Not long ago, I offered a primer on how to construct a decent question from the middle of the White House Briefing Room. But, I left out a couple of crucial rules:

First, you really do want to avoid profanity and/or sexual terminology as much as possible (even when asking about the stimulus package).

Second, when asking a follow-up, lock it down. Don't give them a hole to run through. Sometimes, though, you have to pick which rule is more important.


That's how I managed to reference "teabagging" and masturbation, respectively, at my last two briefings.

First, let me explain the "teabagger" thing. President Obama was quoted in Jonathan Alter's new book as referring to Tea Party protesters as "teabaggers," which touched off a debate about "civility" in politics. At the next briefing, CNSNews.com reporter Fred Lucas wanted to know if the president was aware of the offensive nature of the term when he used it. Understandably, he didn't actually want to say the word.

The problem was that press secretary Robert Gibbs claimed not to know what quote he was talking about, so when I followed up, I had to make it blatantly obvious. If you leave too much wiggle room, you're liable to get back an answer to a question you didn't ask.



Shockingly, Gibbs has not circled back with Fred, or me, on that quote. My guess is that his use was offhand and careless, but not intended to inflame.

Now, about the masturbation. There's a new book out about Rush Limbaugh, and in it, the author claims that the White House responded to an invitation to golf with Limbaugh by saying "Limbaugh can play with himself." The invitation was made through senior adviser David Axelrod, and the response was attributed to "a very senior Democratic activist with whom (the author is) friendly."

Limbaugh responded on his radio show by saying that they were confusing him with Bill Clinton, which sounds snappy, but makes no sense. President Clinton is actually famous for never having trouble finding someone to play with.

In this next clip, I asked Gibbs about the quote, and I tried like hell to be discreet, but Gibbs made me tell him the exact quote. I don't blame him for having a little bit of fun with me, but I was really only trying to fix what I viewed as a mistake.



The "some" who have "speculated," in this case, actually included a columnist at Mediaite. Although the body of the article included the original attribution, and only speculation that Obama could have been the source, the headline was a bit of an oversell: "New Book Claims Obama Told Rush Limbaugh He Can 'Play With Himself.'"

So, you see, I was just giving the White House a chance to correct the record. Obviously, Gibbs didn't want to get into confirming or denying the provenance of a quote that would be nearly impossible to track down, but if you read between the lines, he didn't seem to back away from the suggestion, either. I would speculate that Gibbs' response boils down to "Whether the president said it or not, Limbaugh can still go play with himself."

Well, there you have it. Considering what a dirty business politics is these days, this probably won't be the last time something at a briefing makes sixth graders chuckle, but it's all in the noble pursuit of the truth.

Tommy Christopher is Asylum's White House correspondent and possibly a giant pervert.