A couple of things have happened in recent days that demonstrate both the administration’s strategy of only granting interviews to known allies and notorious pitchers of softballs, and the media’s growing frustration with this.
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi complained on Monday that Obama won’t conduct interviews with newspapers.
“When Obama does media interviews these days, it’s not with a newspaper,” Farhi wrote on Sunday. “TV gets the bulk of the president’s personal attention, from his frequent appearances on ‘60 Minutes’ to MTV to chitchats with local stations around the country. Newspapers? Well, Obama may be the least newspaper-friendly president in a generation… On TV, after all, the president rarely contends with contradictory comments from opponents or the shades-of-gray context about an issue that newspaper and online stories often offer.”
Politico’s media reporter, Dylan Byers, has made the same observation — though with a little misplaced sympathy.
“Obama doesn’t do hard-hitting interviews,” Byers wrote on his blog. “And why would he? Though it causes a great deal of griping among reporters, it’s ultimately proven to be a smart decision — the same way avoiding dark alleys in seedy neighborhoods is a smart decision. At the end of the day, nobody faults you except the folks waiting in the alley.”
Byers is a journalist — he’s supposed to be one of those folks waiting in the alley (love the image, by the way). He gives the president a pass because it’s a “smart decision” to avoid tough questions from the press? More on that in a moment.
“To be very blunt with you, we’re counting on all of you, the legitimate news media to cover these discussions because the truth is that times have changed,” he said.
A little history might provide some perspective here. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry ran for re-election with a sizable financial advantage. His strategy was to campaign hard, but grant no interviews, sit for no editorial boards, and he refused to participate in any debates with his popular opponent, then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
The result? He sailed through the primary and the general elections without ever having to answer any tough questions. Sure, he won re-election in November 2010, but when the Legislature convened in January 2011, it faced a gaping deficit and had to enact deep (and deeply unpopular) budget cuts.
It’s arguable Perry’s refusal to answer tough questions or face his opponent led directly to his disastrous showing in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He fumbled interviews and he embarrassed himself in debates — maybe a little practice would have helped.
The Obama administration’s strategy is clearly a disservice to the American public, which has a right to have tough questions asked and answered.