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Replace White House press conferences with citizen questioners

If you live in the real world, it's remarkable how much the Newtown shootings have affected people -- with sadness, anger...and with many, many questions. People have very existential question -- about how something so awful could have happened -- and they have more specific questions about what can be done, about violence in the culture, about mental health priorities, and about guns, which is the subject of a task force announced today by President Obama.

It also marked the first time since the tragedy that Obama has taken questions, so as you might imagine, the White House press corps struck with a flurry of pointed inquires.

About the so-called fiscal cliff.

I heard this on the radio in the car earlier today, and I was as flabbergasted as anyone else. I had a question. How out of touch are these people with the public they believe that they're writing for? Does anyone know one civilian -- other than your crazy uncle who listens to Rush Limbaugh three hours a day -- who's losing sleep over the fiscal cliff? How many people are losing sleep over whether their kids will be safe in school?

Look, as a journalist myself, I've known a few folks who've worked their way up to the White House beat, and I know these are smart, hard-working people who very much want to inform the public. But something goes wrong inside of that bubble, terribly wrong. I still mark the tipping point in my own radicalization as March 6, 2003 -- the day I watched journalists fail to challenge George W. Bush on his reckless and foolhardy plan to invade Iraq, and I knew that journalism had failed America.

There's something else I've noticed -- especially over the last two presidential election cycles, with so many debates of different varieties. The best, and most informative ones, have been the town hall meetings where everyday citizens, and not journalists, ask most of the questions. That surely would have been the case today: You would have seen a passionate "civilian" -- probably a mom -- confront the president on gun violence, maybe on his failure to address the issue in any meaningful way for one entire term.

White House-based journalists are just too worried about access, about offending the sources they'll run into in the hallway tomorrow morning. So here's an idea -- ship in some real people to query the president  the next time. They'll ask better questions -- and at least the journalists will have something good to write about afterward.