In his Washington Post column yesterday, media critic Howard Kurtz addressed growing tension between the major networks and the Obama administration over the Presidents frequent primetime press conferences. According to Kurtz, chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel bypassed the network heads and went straight to the CEOs of their parent companies to secure a prime-time spot for last months press conference. From the reaction thus far, it appears that if the administration continues to hold conferences at this unprecedented rate, it can expect increasing opposition from the major broadcast networks.
Paul Friedman, senior VP of CBS told Kurtz that “It’s an enormous financial cost when the president replaces one of those prime-time hours. The news divisions also have mixed feelings about whether they are being used.”
The Presidents shrinking audience doesnt help the White House’s case. The first press conference (Feb. 9th) drew 49.5 million viewers, the second (Mar. 24th), 40.4 million. The April 29th conference, at the beginning of the swine flu scare, drew 28.8 million viewers. The last conference, devoted to healthcare on July 22nd, drew 24 million, still a significant number, but a 50% decline from Obama’s February debut.
Fox alone declined the White Houses latest request to reschedule its primetime programming, and instead aired an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance,” which averaged 7.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen’s estimates, and won the hour ahead of ABC, NBC, and CBS, who all agreed to broadcast the conference.
Our last president may have been as reluctant about press conferences as our new president is eager. George W. Bush had yet to address the nation with a single press conference when he was six months in. In his entire first term, Bush gave just eleven press conferences. During those four years, only three took place during primetime.
President Obama has given four press conferences, all during primetime, since he took office in January.