Obama and the press: Who said they were cozy?
Obama has a different relationship with the press than his predecessors, favoring long interviews over press conferences and Q&As. His approach has left reporters surprised - and sometimes frustrated.
By the time President Obama stepped up to the podium last Thursday in the East Room, the news media were fully primed - not only with questions about the BP oil disaster, but with this factoid: It was Mr. Obama's first full press conference since July 22, 2009.Skip to next paragraph
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The public may have felt Obama entered office with an adoring press corps, but if that was ever true, it certainly is not now.
Frustrations over access have been widespread. And it's not just the infrequency of hour-long press conferences (six since taking office, including just four during prime-time). Obama has had far fewer short question-and-answer sessions with the press pool than did his two immediate predecessors: only 53 in his first 15 months in office, versus 176 for President Bush and 312 for President Clinton, says Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University in Towson, Md.
Analysts of White House communications say the buck stops with Obama himself. If he was interested in having more daily give and take with reporters, it would happen. Obama's approach speaks to the type of person he is - as a policy person, an academic, a lawyer -- and his strategic view of the presidency.
"His animus is driven by his persistent focus on the long term," says Michael Cornfield, an expert on politics and the media. "He sees the 24-hour news cycle and the battle for the day's headlines as a distraction, not as something worth pursuing."
So why, then, does he do far more sit-down interviews with reporters than his two immediate predecessors? According to Ms. Kumar, Obama gave 184 interviews (both group and individual) in his first 15 months in office, compared with 56 for Bush and 61 for Clinton during the same period of time, according to Kumar.
"He does interviews because he wants to talk at length and in depth about his policies - like spending almost an hour talking to David Leonhardt of The New York Times about the economy and how health-care, energy, and education are all a part of it," says Kumar. "That takes a while to do. So he avoids short Q-and-A's for that very reason. You're asked to respond to something that's unfolding, where you don't have all the facts and where you're expected to speak briefly, and you can't get into any depth."
Obama makes plenty of public statements, after he and staff have had time to craft the wording carefully. But the more rapid response falls to the communications operation, when it's willing to oblige. Some White House reporters complain that it can take hours to get confirmation of a news item that's already been leaked to and reported by one outlet, such as with Elena Kagan's selection for the Supreme Court.
And it's not that Team Obama is lacking for personnel. This White House has 70 people working communications, versus 57 under Bush, Kumar says. It's more a question of how the team chooses to deploy its resources. In April, members of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) met with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to suggest improvements, including more reporter interaction with the president and more access by news photographers and TV cameras to small presidential events, such as bill-signings and meetings with world leaders.