Among the juicier tidbits in the new book “Stonewalled” by former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson relates to a tiff between C-SPAN and the White House. As Attkisson tells the story, C-SPAN eminence Brian Lamb interviewed President Obama on Aug. 12, 2010, for a documentary on the White House. In the session, Lamb asks Obama about the Oval Office: “What have you changed in this room?”
The president responds, “We have not yet redecorated this room . . . Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times, we decided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.”
Two weeks later, reports Attkisson in the book, a White House official contacts C-SPAN to say, “the Washington Post will be breaking the story of the President’s reported multi-million dollar renovation of the Oval Office,” reads “Stonewalled.” According to the author, the White House official, then-TV liaison Dag Vega, wanted to “make sure” that C-SPAN didn’t run its Obama interview snippet after the story in The Post surfaced. “The one taped just days before in which President Obama had implied, that in the spirit of austerity, there would be no Oval Office redecoration,” writes Attkisson. Actually, the president merely said that they’d made a decision to “hold off last year” on the changes — not that the changes wouldn’t be coming soon.
In any case, the White House, via Vega, wanted C-SPAN to drop the footage later, to coincide with the release of its full documentary about the White House. Not when it was most relevant, and when it would raise questions about why the president had spoken of austerity.
On Aug. 31, 2010, The Post drops its story on the Oval Office makeover, much of which took place while the Obama family had been on vacation (between the time of the Lamb interview and the story in The Post).
C-SPAN blows off the White House fussiness and publishes its interview. That very night, Josh Earnest, then the White House deputy press secretary, sends a tough e-mail to C-SPAN accusing the outlet of “being egregiously unethical and of violating terms of the interview. Though there’s no evidence of the existence of any prior agreement, he continues to insist the White House would not and did not agree to an interview with the president without specifying the terms under which it would air,” writes Attkisson, adding that the White House official threatened to “withhold future access.”
Of the contretemps, Attkisson concludes, “I hate to say it, but I think many news organizations would have agreed to the White House demand to hold the president’s interview, no questions asked.”
C-SPAN tells the Erik Wemple Blog that it has reviewed Attkisson’s treatment of this incident and deems it accurate.