Politico Puts Sunday Morning Hosts in Hot Seat

Politico‘s live performance of “Turn the Table” began early Friday morning with a frustrating flurry of activity minus an ability to get a password, despite asking twice. Invite reporters to an event at the Newseum but don’t provide access so they can log on and cover it in “real time?” Hardly winning the morning.

Still, there was breakfast.

For those who don’t know, “Turn the Table” is a Politico‘s weekly feature in which Editor-in-Chief John Harris or sometimes Mike Allen interviews hosts of the Sunday morning talk programs to get a leg up on weekend talk. This was a special live performance of the feature in which Harris played host. Former Sen. Gordon Smith(R-Ore.), now at the National Assoc. of Broadcasters, introduced the event by puffing up the participants — ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Candy Crowley and NBC’s David Gregory. FNC’s Chris Wallace was a no-show. Good thing since that pesky The News of the World hacking topic inevitably popped into the conversation.

David Brinkley said Washington is made up of people who think they are important,” Smith began. “This morning we have a treat because this morning a panel of people who actually are important. …Especially for the higher calling they answer to every week as broadcasters.”

Gregory’s higher calling Friday morning was all about stripes. He looked intently down at his red and gray striped tie throughout much of live show. His trousers were a grey on grey stripe. His socks were navy striped. He piped up when the moment suited him and seemed to enjoy regaling the packed room with his subtle humor and revelations of what it’s like to be in his shoes.

Gregory reacted notably to the tables being turned on the anchors. Asked for their personal takes on the debt situation as it relates to President Obama‘s chances in the 2012 presidential race, he said, “I’ll be a little less definitive so I can’t be so easily quoted [laughter from the audience]. History would tell us it’s a jump ball. He could turn around a deal on this … I still think he’s got a strong advantage going in partly because there’s an unsettled field on the right.”

Harris asked the panel to describe Obama’s presidential personality. Crowley looked like she was in dressed for a cruise along the Potomac – black pants and top with an elaborate white shell necklace and striking emerald green bracelet. She remarked, “President Obama always wanted to be president. I think he likes the policy discussion. He has a professor in him. He doesn’t have a lot of tolerance in being challenged. He doesn’t like being interrupted. [As for the budget negotiations]…he doesn’t like this nitty gritty horsetrading.”

Gregory, who glanced warmly at Crowley throughout the show but not so with Amanpour, largely agreed. “Well I think what Candy is alluding to, I don’t think the gladiator part of being President is what he’s all about. The idea that he’s having to lead the discussions and bring people around. … He and [House Speaker John] Boehner had gotten so far along, coming out holding press conferences. I think he’s got more of a sense of the battle now. … I still don’t think he’s leading on economic recovery.”

How do hosts prepare for their Sunday shows? Find out…

When asked about The News of the World scandal in Britain and how it affects journalism on the whole, Amanpour said, “That’s not what we’re there for. We’re there to tell the truth.” Amanpour looked Washington appropriate — black suit with pale pink shirt and simple gold jewelry. She  remarked further, “I didn’t know this level of intrusion. This is not just an ethics problem, but it’s also a  huge violation of power and politics. It’s a real, I hate to say it, come to Jesus moment right now. This is a huge problem.”

Crowley thought so too. “Everybody looks at journalism as one big thing, so one thing sullies the career.”

Mid-way through the event, Harris gave himself a major pat on the back by noting how wildly popular Politico‘s “Turn the Table” feature has been. Way to go Politico! He asked each host to give the audience a sense of how they do their jobs.

Gregory starts worrying at the beginning of the week about where they will be at the end of the week. “Generally speaking, [you] start anticipating, you start putting together the pieces,” he said. “No matter who you’re dealing with in this town they’re not as focused on your needs as you are.”

Crowley, too, said she’s thinking about next week’s program right after this week’s ends. “Oh, is it just me who’s going to be talking into the camera?” she half-joked while explaining the sometimes trying process of securing guests.

Harris wondered about program process and preparation. “A good politician can eat up time like a piece of cake,” he said. What do the hosts do about that?

Gregory was the most succinct: Carefully. Prepare well. Manage the time and listen.

Crowley: They throw out statistics, you do too and suddenly you’re having a conversation that not even you understand. I find very often, couch your question, I know you’re going to say this this and this.”

Amanpour claimed she doesn’t treat everyone like a war criminal. “I try to keep my most confrontation for that segment,” she said tongue-in-cheek. “Here in Washington you have to be super prepared. …I think you have to go in with a bit of a plan and decide what you are trying to get out of that interview.”