By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The three network anchors will travel to Europe and the Middle East next week for Barack Obama's trip, adding their high-wattage spotlight to what is already shaping up as a major media extravaganza.
Lured by an offer of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidate, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric will make the overseas trek, meaning that the NBC, ABC and CBS evening newscasts will originate from stops along the route and undoubtedly give it big play.
John McCain has taken three foreign trips in the past four months, all unaccompanied by a single network anchor.
Obama has "proven adept at generating excitement," says David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio. He said the anchors hope "a little bit of that excitement will rub off on their newscasts if they can convey an American phenomenon abroad, if that's what it turns out to be. Senator McCain is not as magnetic a figure in that way."
Jim Geraghty, a columnist for National Review Online, said Obama's paucity of foreign travel as a presidential candidate makes the trip a natural draw for news organizations, while "McCain has been around forever, and he's probably been to all these places before." But, he says, "the networks will be acting as a PR wing for the Obama campaign if they treat any of these photo ops as truly newsworthy breakthroughs."
The plan is for Williams, Gibson and Couric interviews to be parceled out on successive nights in different countries, giving each anchor a one-day exclusive. (Correspondents could have done the interviews instead, but a certain competitiveness sets in once one or two anchors agree to go.) The Washington Post is withholding the scheduled locations for security reasons.
Some 200 journalists have asked to accompany Obama on the costly trip, which will include stops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the campaign will be able to accommodate only one-fifth that number. No itinerary has been announced.
The senator from Illinois has been drawing far more media attention than his Republican rival from Arizona. With this week's Newsweek cover story on Obama's religious beliefs, he has been featured on Time and Newsweek covers 12 times in the past three years, compared with five for McCain. This week's New Yorker includes a 14,600-word piece on Obama's political rise in Chicago. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were recently on the cover of Us Weekly and were interviewed -- with their young daughters, which Obama later said he regretted -- by "Access Hollywood."
When McCain visited Britain, France and Israel in March and met with their leaders, no network anchors tagged along. NBC and ABC sent correspondents; CBS did not. None of the evening newscasts covered his trip to Canada last month. And McCain's swing through Colombia and Mexico two weeks ago was barely covered, although NBC and ABC sent correspondents.
The upcoming Obama trip, by contrast, has already generated stories about how large his crowds will be and whether German authorities will allow him to speak at the Brandenburg Gate. "Europe Awaits Obama With Open Arms," the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday.