ABC Admits Team Obama Picked Robin Roberts Due to Her Race, Age, and Previous (Soft) Interviews

Media reports are quite explicit that the Obama White House chose ABC's Robin Roberts for an Obama interview because of her reputation for warm and fuzzy news and -- her race and even her age. “The White House went with Robin because of her personal rapport, their friendship, the past interviews — but also her race [African-American], even her age,” one producer at ABC said to Politico's Dylan Byers about Roberts, 51. “There is a very strong, very basic connection there.” Think Oprah.

On Good Morning America, Roberts does close to zero political interviews -- George Stephanopoulos hogs them. Roberts offered a "warmer, gauzier" and less combative presence, former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno told Paul Farhi at the Washington Post. The White House wanted a "conversation across the back of the fence," not a newsmaker interview:

“If you’re the White House and you have to deal with something this white-hot, do you want to engage this as a news story or as conversation across the back of the fence?”

Farhi added:

Roberts is amiable on TV, and having her across from the president suggested a soft and easy conversation, rather than a major policy announcement, said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian civil rights organization. That she is a woman, a breast-cancer survivor and the co-host of a morning program that does not regularly feature battles among talking heads helped enhance this effect.

What’s more, Roberts is African American, which might blunt some of the opposition to gay marriage among African Americans, Sainz said.

“I thought the selection of Roberts was genius,” he said. “She comes across as the neighbor you’d be happy to have a cup of coffee with. That’s the way to frame this issue, as an ongoing conversation with the American public.”

ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said Roberts had a reputation as "direct but fair." But do the Republicans get to have a "conversation" on ABC when they take on a very controversial social issue? No.

Byers also suggested it was due to Roberts being religious:

Jonathan Wald, executive producer of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” said, “The White House is very careful who it picks for which message. Robin is universally regarded as an excellent interviewer, and she and Obama have a relationship. It’s clear that the president likes to do interviews with her.”

By giving the interview to an African-American and Christian — two groups whose opposition to same-sex marriage has been significant — the White House may have been aiming to make Obama’s announcement more palatable to groups that differ with his support for gay marriage. (Christianity has long played a central role in Roberts’s life — she has credited her success to her parents’ emphasis on the three “D’s”: Discipline, Determination and “De Lord.”)

But while respected inside ABC and throughout the industry as a skilled and experienced interviewer, Roberts was also viewed as a safe pick for the Obama administration, in part because she comes from the world of morning network television and rarely flexes any political muscle or attack-dog approach to journalism.

“She’s friendly turf,” one executive at a rival network said. “I assume if Oprah was still Oprah, she would have landed this interview.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis