While President Obama has been withdrawn from press scrutiny over his handling of Libya, he's managed to sit down to no less than six local TV interviews this month, with a view to a friendly format focused on issues of concern to his liberal base in swing states.
Washington Post's Peter Wallsten has the story on today's print edition front page (emphases mine):
Obama has made such encounters with local news stations a staple of his communications strategy. Since December, White House aides have handpicked 13 stations, all in key cities in presidential battleground states, to reward with the biggest “get” in the TV news business: a one-on-one White House interview with the president. An additional interview was granted to Hearst Television’s Washington bureau, which serves more than two dozen local stations across the country.
Each reporter is granted seven minutes with the commander in chief.
In March alone, Obama has welcomed interviewers from Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Albuquerque and Norfolk. Before that, invitees came from Richmond, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Tampa, Denver, Des Moines and Columbus. And aides say more are coming soon.
In some cases, Obama had a message he wanted to send directly to the people in particular states. It was during a Feb. 16 interview with the Milwaukee station that the public first learned of Obama’s view that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was launching an “assault” on public-sector unions.
He told the Miami reporter that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) was “wrong” to cancel plans for a federally backed high-speed train in the state.
The Pittsburgh and Philadelphia stations made news when Obama told them that state lawmakers should be leery of adopting Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education cuts.
Of course, every now and then a reporter doesn't want to play by the White House's restrictive ground rules:
Jim Gardner, the silver-haired 62-year-old anchor on Philadelphia’s WPVI, ignored warnings from White House aides that the president would refuse to engage on Libya. Obama had just delivered remarks announcing that U.S. forces would mobilize with a mission to help protect civilians in that country. Gardner opened the conversation by telling Obama, “I am a little confused after your speech today about the goal of the potential military intervention.”
Obama was clearly displeased: “As was already mentioned to you, I’m not going to comment beyond the statement that I made today.”
The president will elaborate on his Libya policy in an address Monday night — 10 days after the exchange with Gardner — and in one-on-one encounters with network news anchors Tuesday during a trip to New York City.
But by and large, however, it seems local media outlets have been friendly outlets, with some reporters starstruck to say the least.
Take WSVN's Lynn Martinez (pictured below) and her seven minutes in heaven:
Martinez, the Miami anchor, seemed to squeeze three interviews into one.
She had been on vacation in Washington that week visiting her sister when her station called with two days’ notice to prepare for the interview.
After cramming with help from her sister and her colleagues back in Miami, Martinez posed some hard-nosed questions — including one about why the federal loan-modification program hasn’t helped more people in South Florida’s devastated housing market.
Obama acknowledged that the resources available weren’t enough. “We’re putting a lot of gravel in a hole that’s bigger than the amount of gravel that we have,” he told her.
Martinez’s station is known more for glitzy, fast-paced newscasts than substantive policy discussions. And Martinez, who co-anchors a frothy entertainment show each night, needed more out of the president. So, as the final seconds of her time slot counted down, Martinez made an offer to the president: When he visits Miami next month for a commencement address, “you’ll have to also stop by my house — because I make a mean lemon martini.”
“You’re a good bartender?” asked a surprised-sounding president.
“I can only make one drink,” Martinez replied. “But the lemon martini’s really good.”
Obama said he might take her up on the offer — but after the speech. “It sounds like it might be a little strong,” he said.
The following week, Martinez was still squeezing material out of her brief interview. She aired a bloopers reel of her encounter with Obama. With “Hail to the Chief” spliced in as an intro, Martinez showed herself struggling to attach her microphone to her blouse as Obama looked on. “I grope myself and bring it up under my bra,” she narrates. Then, showing it again in slow motion, she adds: “I’m reaching into my chest in front of the president of the United States.”