UPDATE: A White House source, responding to a request for comment, contends that Beltway reporters often complain that the White House arranges interviews with regional news outlets to generate softball questions for the commander in chief. The episode with KMOV proves that the same risks and challenges attach to any interview that the president agrees to conduct, says the source.
ORIGINAL POST: The White House invited this little PR problem. In an interview that is making itself available around the Internet, the president is asked about how he and his family persist in “jetting” around on vacations while people are struggling. He responds:
I’m raising a family here. When we travel, we gotta travel through Secret Service and Air Force One. That’s not my choice. I think most folks understand how hard I work and how hard this administration is working on behalf of the American people.
That’ll teach the Obama’s handlers never to do business again with Larry Conners. The tough-looking anchor for KMOV TV in St. Louis, Conners has been in the business for decades and was in no mood to coddle the president. After all, one of his viewers sent him into the session with this advice: “Larry, Puhleeease don’t throw him softballs... It’ll only make YOU look bad!”
The viewer had to be pleased with Conner’s performance. Here’s the full text of his inquiry to the country’s CEO:
The economy is a big issue and concern for folks. The unemployment, trying to make ends meet, gas prices, food prices are going up. Some of our viewers are complaining...they get frustrated and even angered when they see the First Family jetting around different vacations and so forth, sometimes maybe they think under the color of state business and that you’re out of touch, you really don’t know what they’re experiencing right now.
The president appeared to challenge the very premise of the question — that Conners’ viewers had really made a fuss about the issue. Here’s how he expressed that skepticism:
I don’t know how many viewers you’re talking about that say that.
Conners shot back: “We do hear from some.”
Word: In preparation for its big interview, KMOV went to Facebook and polled its audience on what questions to put to the president. Crowdsourcing! And sure enough, Conners wasn’t kidding about having viewers who were hot about travel:
Ask him if his daughter enjoyed her trip to Mexico at taxpayer expense, how much it cost and if the Czars he has appointed were approved by Congress before appointments.
Ask him how many more date nights flying around in air force one he’s going to take on taxpayers dollars...
Ask why he thinks it’s ok for his family to fly all over the World on vacation using tax payers dollars?
That’s not to say that the 136 posts that came in response to the KMOV poll were heavy on outrage about presidential family travel. They were not. The standard issues dominated — unemployment, gas prices, health care and, yes, there was a birth certificate comment in there just to round things out. Yet in tying in the travel question with the state of the economy, Larry Conners and KMOV were fairly representing their Missouri constituency in Washington.
And that’s how the White House wanted it. According to KMOV news director Sean McLaughlin, it was the White House that reached out to them: “They said they were making the president available to a couple of reporters and we were one of the stations that could take part if we could get him [Conners] there,” McLaughlin says. The interview, says the news director, ”ended up being a little controversial....You get a good sense of how partisan our society is when you sit at your desk and read the e-mails” that have come into the station since the session.
In his standup after the interview, Conners told his viewers, ”With all due respect, the president sidestepped that [travel] question.”