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Tiller, Abortion Not Addressed In Daily Press Briefing

Today's press briefing with Robert Gibbs was dominated by questions about General Motors. And as exasperated as the press secretary seemed at times, he may have preferred that topic to the hot-button social issue of abortion, propelled into the headlines by yesterday's murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller.

A quick count of the questions today finds that 52 were focused on the GM bankruptcy, while no other topic was asked about more than a handful of times. There were two on the president's "date night" trip to New York on Saturday, two more on his visit to Saudi Arabia, and four questions on a suspicious package that resulted in a lockdown of the White House grounds, among other topics (the exact count may vary depending on how you count follow ups and quick back-and-forths).

But not a single question about Tiller specifically, or abortion more broadly. The specter of social issues returning to the forefront -- especially as the administration seeks a smooth confirmation for Judge Sotomayor on the Supreme Court -- was a hot topic this morning, making it that much more puzzling as to why it didn't come up.

Gibbs certainly cannot predict every question that will come from those who he calls on, but he does have some measure of control. At one point, a reporter shouted out to Gibbs that she had a "non-GM question," but as he scanned the room, he ignored her hand. This reporter had planned to ask about Tiller and whether abortion was part of the discussion at the White House today when Sotomayor met with officials, but was not called on from my seat in far corner of the briefing room.

Today's circumstance also reflects a frustration some White House reporters feel about the daily televised briefing. Network correspondents and the reporters from major newspapers and wire services often have the opportunity to ask multiple questions covering several topics, and often do. But occasionally they can become preoccupied with the most immediate news of the day, and as Gibbs played defense on aspects of the administration's plan and "exit strategy," these reporters chose to keep the back-and-forth going, rather than move on to other topics.

That leaves other reporters, including those who might only attend the occasional briefing to address one specific issue, in the cold in what is the best opportunity to get White House officials on the record.