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In Obama's decision-making, a wide range of influences
As for what Obama reads online, his advisers said he looks for offbeat blogs and news stories, tracking down firsthand reporting and seeking out writers with opinions about his policies. Obama was particularly interested in Atlantic Online's Andrew Sullivan's tweeting of the Iranian elections last year, said an aide, who requested anonymity to discuss what influences the president.
When they spoke for attribution, administration officials played down the notion of a Googling commander in chief.
"I don't think time permits him to be surfing all the time," Axelrod said, adding that the president reads "magazines like crazy," including the New Yorker, the Economist, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. "There are some commentators whose views he's interested in, and he'll read blog items."
"Periodically, I mention to him articles that I have found particularly interesting, and that he might find interesting, and a very high fraction of the time he has already read them and has some kind of reaction," economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers said.
Across the administration, people who work closely with the president said he remains fond of his BlackBerry and communicates directly, rather than running everything through his chief of staff. He sometimes sends e-mails late at night, an updated version of the late-night phone calls to the brain trust that President Bill Clinton used to place.
Obama watches plenty of television, too. He flips through cable channels, sometimes lingering on the "cable chatter" he has disdained in public, aides said. And he keeps an eye on his staff, including press secretary Robert Gibbs, whose daily briefings are broadcast live on C-Span. "Certainly he will catch Robert's briefings," former communications director Anita Dunn said. "He'll say, 'Robert, I just saw you getting asked X.' "
But Valerie Jarrett, the adviser who is personally closest with Obama, cautioned against over-interpreting his channel surfing. "Most of his television revolves around [ESPN's] 'SportsCenter.' I don't think there are a lot of television shows he gets inspiration from other than sports," she said, laughing.
In early December, Obama invited a group of business people to the White House for a jobs summit, and Paul Krugman made the list. The Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist at times has been one of Obama's toughest critics on the left.
Whereas most journalists are brought in to see the president in order to try to shape a news story, the private meeting between Krugman and Obama was something of a policy debate on the economy and health care, although aides would not disclose details. Obama, said one aide, was grateful to have the "intellectual challenge" of an adversary who would help refine his own thinking.
"He likes the rigor of having a conversation with someone who's going to push him," Jarrett said. "There's really no point in him wasting time with people who simply agree with him all the time, because it's not going to refine his position. It's not going to enlighten his position." She added: "Also, then Paul gets to hear an opinion different than his own, too."
It remains to be seen whether the president's opinions have swayed the columnist. In a recent blog posting, Krugman said he is "pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in."
Obama also seeks out rival views among his staff to whatever idea is on the table. During one economic session, his advisers were all on the same page; that annoyed Obama, and he sent them out of the room with a request to return with a dissenting view, a participant said. What ensued resembled a debate club meeting.