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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles on December 17, Kenneth T. Welsh, Chief White House Correspondent with US News & World Report.
Transcription by Annette Lockett, McAl Typing Service.
EOH: Is there something that the President’s advance people brief the press on before the President comes in?
KTW: Sometimes they will tip you off to something. If the white house wants publicity for something, then there will be a huge amount of advance work on that. There will be background interviews with staff members, etc. They want as much attention as they can get. Normally, sometimes the White House wants to surprise the media, so they won’t tell you. Most of the time the mood is that if the White House wants people to know about something, they will tell you about it in advance. It it’s something that might be more troublesome, they may not do that in order to get the view out uncensored.
EOH: Is the press micromanaged by the White House?
KTW: President Obama and staff will go over and make a list as to who the President should call on. He will sometimes go out of order and sometimes add a name. President Obama has no qualms about letting it be known that he has a list, but the questions are not submitted in advance. Sometimes they will get advance notice as to who will get called on but most of the time they do not. If the President is on a news conference, he will be warned ahead of time that it is live and he will call on the networks first, such as ABC, NBC, CBS; etc. President Obama may call on 12 to 14 reporters. He will often call on reporters from a liberal blog and from African-American outlet.
EOH: Is the press actually getting much more challenging with President Obama?
KTW: There has been a little more edge to the questions, but the whole pattern for the first couple of news conferences his questions have been pretty tough. What you are getting now especially because of the midterm elections and the increase, the press core is getting much more aggressive in its questions. That always happens with every President as you approach an election year. I think you will see a lot more aggressiveness in the media as the election draws near, as has happened with every President.
EOH: What kind of access does a working reporter have with President Obama to go in and sit down with President Obama to ask tough questions on policies and issues?
KTW: President Obama is not as accessible as he might appear to be. He likes to give interviews over news conferences. He likes to sit down on a one to one basis and explore issues in depth. President Obama is very willing to discuss issues at great lengths. It’s not easy to get an interview with him because of his busy schedule. Sometimes you will be given a senior staff member who can explain his views. He has done far more interviews than his predecessors, but the TV reporters feel he has not done enough news conferences.
EOH: How would you rate President Obama’s accessibility to the press and his candor and honesty with the press and the American people?
KTW: I feel that Bush the father was actually the most candid and most accessible, especially in the beginning of his administration. These days it is harder for reporters to get to know the President because both sides are too cynical and really don’t trust each other. Sometimes President Obama will occasionally do off the record meetings with reporters, but generally he does not become too candid because he is aware that he can get burned if he is too candid because things said off the record do not stay off the record.
EOH: Do you feel that the press has treated President Obama fairly?
KTW: I want to think that public officials tend to get the coverage they deserve. It doesn’t mean that every story is correct or fully comprehensive, but over time through the media, Americans get quite a good sense of what their President is all about and what they are like. Sometimes it takes a while, and I think some Americans are still trying to figure out President Obama, whether he‘s a liberal, how much he will compromise, etc. But I think over time with the saturation coverage I think a viewer or a listener would get a good sense of the President by diversifying his or her news consumption, taking in a lot of different news outlets.
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