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Obama spotlights women reporters in press conference

WASHINGTON — The First Family departed for their annual Hawaii vacation on Friday at dusk after President Barack Obama wrapped up the year upbeat at a news conference — which intentionally featured only female reporters asking questions.

Obama’s main news was calling Sony’s decision to cancel “The Interview” a mistake and downplaying the possibility of a trip to Cuba, even with the thaw in relations this week. Don’t overlook Obama’s very dismissive remarks about the economic impact of the Keystone XL pipeline, a sure sign Canada’s top U.S. priority is doomed on his watch.

My takeaways and musings:

*Obama took only eight questions, all from women representing national outlets. The all-female lineup was “unprecedented” for Obama at a White House (not overseas) news conference, said presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, who oversees the definitive press/White House database. Obama called on four reporters, all women, at a September news conference in Wales.

How did this happen? In an unusual move, the White House decided not to call on any of the six TV network White House correspondents on press conference duty Friday — five men and a woman.

A White House official shed light on the usually closely held process, saying in a statement, “We informed the television networks prior to the news conference that they were not likely to be included on the President’s list because each of them has asked the President questions at least twice since last month’s election.

“In addition, most of them have had exclusive presidential interviews during that time frame. So, other than the wires (none of whom has recently conducted a presidential interview), we called on news organizations that have not questioned the President since the election and as the list started to come together, we recognized this unique opportunity.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said afterwards in a statement, “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight” women reporters “at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

I don’t think this represents any significant change in the state of women in journalism, which could use improving, a topic for another day.

The White House press shop saw it had the opportunity to easily shape a “good” story for the boss and ran with it.

*Earlier in the week, the White House opened the door for an Obama trip to Cuba, following the release of the imprisoned Alan Gross and a related spy swap. On Friday, Obama nudged it shut. “Not in the cards,” he said.

That was an attempt to not infuriate critics of the deal and not raise hopes of a quick transformation. I can’t see the new incoming Republican-controlled Senate confirming an Obama ambassador to Cuba anytime soon.

*With two years left to his term, Obama wants to avoid any lame duck syndrome. “I’m energized. I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years,” Obama said.

“My presidency is entering the fourth quarter,” he added. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter. And I’m looking forward to it.”

The First Family remains in Hawaii through Jan. 4.