Want To Interview The President? How And Why The White House Chooses The Interviewer

By Gail Shister 

Aside from expedited timing, President Obama’s bombshell endorsement of same-sex marriage to ABC’s Robin Roberts on Wednesday was business as usual in terms of White House media manipulation.

So says Charles Bierbauer, Dean of the University of South Carolina’s School of Mass Communications and former senior White House correspondent for CNN.

Once Vice President Biden screwed the pooch on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday, the White House went into scramble mode to select the venue – and correspondent — for Obama’s guaranteed blockbuster. It didn’t take long for an offer to be made.


“These things are done in a subtle way,” says Bierbauer, who covered Presidents Reagan and Bush (41) from 1984 to ‘93. “In a sense, you’re always manipulated, but you go into it knowing that. It’s all a negotiation.

“I could imagine the White House saying to ABC, ‘Our preference for a correspondent is Robin Roberts, or we’ll give this to another network.’ It probably happens more than we know. or the White House would care to admit.”

The White House specifically requested Roberts, according to an ABC executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Networks always have the option of saying no, but that doesn’t happen, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The President of the United States can gain access to any media outlet and any program he chooses, on the assumption he will make news. The news value and ratings potential are so high, nobody will turn it down.”

‘Good Morning America’ and Robin Roberts were the perfect choices for this president at this time, in Jamieson’s view.

‘GMA’ targets a crucial demo for Obama – moderate women, Jamieson says. As a voting block, they abandoned the Democrats in ’10. Obama must woo them back in order to win re-election in November.

To the White House, Roberts, 51, a female African-American Christian, was “the ideal” choice on this issue, explains Jamieson. “She creates a different context for the answers he’s going to give about his Christian faith and the Golden Rule. She’s not going to question those assumptions.”

In addition, Roberts “is a sympathetic interviewer who will listen to his complete answers and not interrupt with follow-up questions.”

Though the exclusive interview clearly made news — and gave to Roberts the scoop of her career — its timing was problematic for Bierbauer.

“I can’t escape the feeling they [White House] were pushed,” he says. “To an outside observer, this doesn’t suggest good message management. You want to do it on your own timetable … They lost control of the message.”

Regardless, that message will make its way into the Democratic Party platform this summer, Jamieson predicts. However, it will be eclipsed by jobs and the economy as major issues of the campaign, she adds.