Howard Kurtz today with some shocking comments from Mark Whitaker, NBC News Washington bureau chief, on Obama fatigue, as well as some insight into the network arm-twisting by the White House. An excerpt:
Mark Whitaker, NBC’s Washington bureau chief, says Obama “is at risk of overexposure” and suggests the sessions are losing their novelty.
“Every time a president holds a press conference there is potential for news to be made, as he did, probably to his regret, with his comments on the Gates case,” Whitaker says. Still, he says, “we would feel better” if White House officials “were approaching us with the sense that they had something new to say, rather than that they just wanted to continue a dialogue with the American people. There are other ways of continuing that dialogue than taking up an hour of prime time.”
Sarah Feinberg, Emanuel’s spokeswoman, says that after press secretary Robert Gibbs heard that network officials had concerns about programming conflicts, “Rahm made a round of calls to network executives to discuss ways the White House could accommodate concerns.” The upshot was that the news conference was moved up an hour, to 8 p.m. — a boon to NBC, which had a 9 p.m. special featuring overnight British singing star Susan Boyle.
Emanuel tried to create a sense of momentum — calling Disney’s Iger last, for instance, and saying he had secured agreement from the other two networks.
Some calls had little impact. Emanuel reached GE’s Immelt, a member of Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, after learning that NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker was traveling. But Immelt told him that it was Zucker’s decision, and a subsequent call to Zucker yielded an agreement that NBC would provide live coverage.
Tensions have been building behind the scenes. Some television executives say the Bush administration informally floated possible news conference dates in advance, while Obama officials basically notify the networks of their plans. Such an approach prompted calls between White House officials and the top executives at each network, and a meeting between Gibbs and the Washington bureau chiefs.