C-SPAN spokesman Howard Mortman tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the public affairs network has received scant-to-no cooperation from the White House over the four years since it engaged in a spat with key presidential aides over video footage. “We’ve always been bewildered by this incident,” Mortman said yesterday afternoon.
As reported in Sharyl Attkisson’s new book, “Stonewalled,” C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb interviewed President Obama in the Oval Office on Aug. 12, 2010. In that session, Lamb asked Obama what he’d changed in the Oval Office. The president responded, in part: “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.” Lamb’s session with the president was part of a documentary on the White House that C-SPAN was planning for a later date.
Notwithstanding the decision to “hold off last year,” the Oval Office got a new look just days after the president’s Aug. 12 chat with Lamb. On Aug. 31, The Post published a story on the makeover. Concerned that C-SPAN would publish the interview with Obama in the wake of the news in The Post, White House officials contacted C-SPAN to “make sure” that the network didn’t release the Obama remarks until weeks later, when the full documentary was ready, Attkisson writes.
C-SPAN defines its mission as a “public service,” a calling at odds with taking orders from the White House. It dropped its Obama-Oval Office footage on Aug. 31. According to Attkisson’s book, Josh Earnest, then deputy press secretary, threatened to “withhold future access” from C-SPAN.
That was four years ago. What has happened since then? “I will say that we’ve not been able to get interviews with the president, vice president or the first lady as well,” says Mortman. And what about lesser-ranking White House officials? “No results at the lower levels,” says Mortman, noting that the White House generally cites scheduling issues in rejecting interview requests. Several C-SPAN programs feature interviews — “Washington Journal,” “Newsmakers,” “Communicators,” “In Depth” and “Q&A” — though the network would commonly invite White House officials for “stand-alone” sessions, according to Mortman.
Does all this mean that the White House has followed through on the pledge to withhold access? Mortman wouldn’t bite on that one, repeating his line about how the network’s interview requests haven’t resulted in interviews. It also bears noting that Obama has gone years without granting interviews to key media outlets, including The Washington Post and the New York Times.
C-SPAN has been doing its thing since 1979. When asked whether it has seen such a prolonged access drought before, Mortman answered, “No.”