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Call On Me! Which Reporters and News Organizations Have the President's Ear at Press Conferences?

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NBC's Chuck Todd and ABC's Jake Tapper have asked the most questions to date; Obama has called on broadcast reporters 41 percent of the time

President Barack Obama will conduct his 37th news conference on Friday morning, although just his 10th solo conference held stateside and 9th in D.C.

After a press-heavy first six months of his administration, Obama has been criticized for ignoring the press over the past year, as his approval ratings began to fall first below 60 then the 50 percent mark.

The President has held just four solo press conferences thus far in 2010 (252 days), with one of these taking place outside of the United States (Toronto). By comparison, Obama held four solo press conferences during the first 74 days of his administration in 2009.

Overall, President Obama has held nine solo press conferences in the U.S., six others around the world, and 21 held jointly with other world leaders - nine in the U.S. and 12 abroad.

In addition to his more reclusive relationship with the press of late, Obama has also tinkered with traditional protocol at news conferences, at times departing from the formal pecking order of press pool questions (normally wire services, then broadcast networks, national newspapers, magazines, radio, and finally regional newspapers).

For example, at the President's (abbreviated) April 19, 2009 news conference in Trinidad and Tobago, Scott Wilson of the Washington Post was called on before the broadcast network White House correspondents from NBC, ABC, and CNN (FOX and CBS did not get to ask questions).

A similar situation took place on April 29, 2009, when a regional newspaper reporter (Deb Price of the Detroit News) won the second slot, over all of the broadcast news organizations as well as Reuters wire service.

And perhaps the most eyebrow-raising moment came during the June 23, 2009 press conference when Nico Pitney of the internet news outlet Huffington Post received the second question of the evening, with the President seemingly pushing the topic of Iran:

Obama: Since we're on Iran, I know Nico Pitney is here from Huffington Post.

Pitney. Thank you, Mr. President.

Obama: Nico, I know that you--and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. What--do you have a question?

Pitney: Yes, I did, but I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian. We solicited questions last night from people who are still courageous enough to be communicating online, and one of them wanted to ask you this: "Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadi-nejad? And if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of the--of what the demonstrators there are working towards?"

To be sure, there is both an art and science in those handful of seconds in which a reporter gets face time with the President at these media events.

And what reporters have been able to ask the most questions to President Obama so far?

A Smart Politics analysis of the three-dozen solo and joint news conferences held by Barack Obama through the first week of September 2010 finds that more than 75 reporters across 40 news organizations have been called on by the President to date.

Leading the way are Chuck Todd of NBC News and Jack Tapper of ABC News, who have each received the green light from the President at 10 conferences.

Todd, who is also NBC's Political News Director, has been particularly adept at squeezing in follow-up questions when called on, frequently pushing the President to give an answer when it is clear he does not want to do so.

Todd has asked a series of one or more follow-up questions on six of these 10 occasions, such as this exchange from June 2009:

Todd: Mr. President, I want to follow up on Iran. You have avoided twice spelling out consequences. You've hinted that there would be, from the international community, if they continue to violate - you said violate these norms. You seem to hint that there are human rights violations taking place.

Obama: I'm not hinting. I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that's a problem.

Todd: Then why won't you spell out the consequences that the Iranian --

Obama: Because I think, Chuck, that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle; I'm not. Okay?

Todd: But shouldn't--I mean, shouldn't the world and Iran -

Obama: Chuck, I answered -

Todd: - but shouldn't the Iranian regime know that there are consequences?

Obama: I answered the question, Chuck, which is that we don't yet know how this is going to play out. Okay?

By contrast, ABC's Tapper has asked follow-up questions on only three occasions.

Overall, reporters from the broadcast medium have dominated news conferences under Obama, accounting for 63 of the 152 questions asked at such events (41.4 percent), well ahead of newspapers (43, 28.3 percent), wire services (29, 19.1 percent), and radio (12, 7.9 percent).

Questions Asked at President Obama News Conferences by Type of News Outlet

Medium
#
Percent
Broadcast
63
41.4
Newspaper
43
28.3
Wire
29
19.1
Radio
12
7.9
Magazine
3
2.0
Internet
2
1.3
Total
152
100.0
Note: Press conferences through September 9, 2010. Excludes follow-up questions and questions asked by news organizations selected by other world leaders during joint news conferences. Data compiled by Smart Politics from the Public Papers of the President.

Following Todd and Tapper in the broadcast medium is Chip Reid of CBS News with eight questions asked to date.

Major Garrett, who just recently departed FOX News, has asked six questions, good for fourth among broadcast reporters and fifth overall.

The administration was met with the charge of being cool to FOX News early on, even before Obama took office, after the president-elect opted not to call on the network at the first few pre-inauguration news conferences held after his November 2008 victory.

FOX's cable news rival CNN has been selected for questions on seven occasions, split among three reporters: Ed Henry (3), Suzanne Malveaux (2), and Dan Lothian (2).

In the newspaper medium, reporters from the New York Times have received the nod from the President by far and away the most frequently, tallying nine questions from Helene Cooper, Jackie Calmes, Jeff Zeleny, Peter Baker, and Ginger Thompson.

The only other newspapers to crack the Top 10 outlets are USA Today and the Washington Post with five each (tied for #10).

McClatchy newspapers and the Wall Street Journal have asked four questions each, followed by the Chicago Tribune, Washington Times, Hearst Newspapers, and Politico with two.

News magazines trail both wire and radio for a distant fifth, with just three questions asked to date - one each by Ebony, Time, and Newsweek.

By contrast, Obama has given a greater platform to U.S.-based reporters from the French news organization AFP (Agence France-Presse), which has asked three questions of the President, and the Spanish news service EFE, which has asked two.

Overall, reporters from the Associated Press wire service, led by Jennifer Loven with nine, have tallied the most questions asked at news conferences, with 15. The AP receives the lead question at formal news conferences held stateside.

In a few hours, media and political observers will soon see which news organizations have the President's ear, and which are resigned to the unheeded chorus of "Mr. President, Mr. President..."

Reporters Selected for Questions at President Obama News Conferences

Outlet
Reporter
#
ABC News
Jake Tapper
10
NBC News
Chuck Todd
10
Associated Press
Jennifer Loven
9
CBS News
Chip Reid
8
Fox News
Major Garrett
6
Bloomberg
Julianna Goldman
5
Bloomberg
Hans Nichols
4
Reuters
Jeff Mason
4
Associated Press
Ben Feller
3
CBS Radio
Mark Knoller
3
CNN
Ed Henry
3
McClatchy
Steve Thomma
3
New York Times
Helene Cooper
3
Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Weisman
3
Agence France-Presse
Stephen Collinson
2
American Urban Radio Network
April Ryan
2
CBS Radio
Peter Maer
2
Chicago Tribune
Christi Parsons
2
CNN
Dan Lothian
2
CNN
Suzanne Malveaux
2
EFE
Macarena Vidal
2
Hearst Newspapers
Helen Thomas
2
New York Times
Jackie Calmes
2
New York Times
Jeff Zeleny
2
Reuters
Caren Bohan
2
Univision
Lourdes Meluza
2
USA Today
Richard Wolf
2
USA Today
David Jackson
2
Washington Post
Scott Wilson
2
Washington Post
Michael Fletcher
2
Washington Times
Jon Ward
2
ABC Radio
Ann Compton
1
Associated Press
Darlene Superville
1
Associated Press
Bob Burns
1
Associated Press Radio
Mark Smith
1
BET
Andre Showell
1
Bloomberg
Roger Runningen
1
Bloomberg
Ed Chen
1
CBS News
Bill Plante
1
Chicago Sun Times
Lynn Sweet
1
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Steve Koff
1
Detroit News
Deb Price
1
Ebony
Kevin Chappell
1
Financial Times
Ed Luce
1
Huffington Post
Sam Stein
1
Huffington Post
Nico Pitney
1
KDKA-TV
Jon Delano
1
McClatchy
Margaret Talev
1
National Public Radio
Mara Liasson
1
National Public Radio
Scott Horsley
1
National Public Radio
Don Gonyea
1
New York Times
Peter Baker
1
New York Times
Ginger Thompson
1
Newsweek
Holly Bailey
1
Politico
Mike Allen
1
Politico
Carol Lee
1
Reuters
David Alexander
1
Reuters
Patricia Zengerle
1
Reuters
Matt Spetalnick
1
Stars and Stripes
Kevin Baron
1
Telemundo
Lori Montenegro
1
Time
Michael Scherer
1
Univision
Edna Schmidt
1
USA Today
Mimi Hall
1
Wall Street Journal
Laura Meckler
1
Washington Post
Michael Shear
1
Agence France-Presse
Laurent Lozano
1
Other foreign media
 
8
Total
 
152
Note: Press conferences through September 9, 2010. Excludes follow-up questions and questions asked by news organizations selected by other world leaders during joint news conferences. Also excludes a handful of questions asked by reporters who were not identified in news conference transcripts, particularly in those held abroad. Data compiled by Smart Politics from the Public Papers of the President.

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3 Comments


  • Reuters is British even if it employs American journalists stateside. It's no less biased against the US than the BBC is. And if you don't think BBC is biased you must believe the CIA was behind the shooting of Pope John Paul II. BBC does.

  • An interesting breakdown of the connections directly between the president, the media and degree of access. In a time where the numbers aren't looking good for Democrats and mindful of the opposition's current communication tactics one wonders if the administration will adopt a new communication strategy for the remaining year or so of "business" before the next presidential campaign season begins in earnest.

    Also an interesting remark from rss...but one that I disagree with. You may be a UK citizen or resident and just take a different point of view. If you are, please pardon me for the next couple paragraphs as I'll be going on about things you already know. I've never heard about BBC's coverage of Pope John Paul II's assassination attempt...but will look that one up.

    I would argue that the BBC are centrist by European Standards and Left by American Standards. They also approach news stories from an adversarial position. No one--regardless of their political point of view or how much the country supports or opposes their view-- is safe from a grilling. In part, they're interested in getting a politician or corporate CEO to say more than they want to (name a media house that doesn't want to expose a leak or get a scoop); and this is also bourne out of a tradition of debate that is inherent to the culture.

    As a US citizen but UK resident for the last 16 years, I would argue that the BBC are not biased against the US. I've noticed reporting on US issues that was at times ignorant of all the circumstances. There are also times where there is disagreement with a position taken by a US politician or public figure but I've never taken that as anti-American. I would concede that the previously mentioned adversarial approach could be interpreted as bias...particularly when compared to reporting and interview approaches often deployed by journalists from the major US networks. This is not to say that the news or quality of reporting is any better or worse. I would just say that a BBC reporter likes to spoil for a fight a little bit more than their American counterparts. Interestingly, American politicians seem to warm to this approach as their performances on BBC news at 10:00 and Newsnight are often far better then UK Parliamentary MP's and politicians from other parts of the world.

  • I'm curious--are there really no internet-only news services represented in the White House press corps? Still?? That is unbelievable to me, just as a statistic.

    It doesn't surprise me that the networks still dominate the conversation, but the absence of diversified internet news services alongside the traditional broadcast media surprises me.

    I guess change comes slow sometimes.

  • Leave a comment


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