Mainstream Media: Mutual Fascination With Obama

When President Obama holds his first Rose Garden news conference on Tuesday, he'll be honoring a White House tradition. The Obama administration was expected to be all about Twittering and Facebook posts and text messages. The mainstream media feared they'd be irrelevant, but that hasn't happened so far.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

President Obama holds his first Rose Garden news conference later today. It's a nod to White House tradition, and, of course, a forum for major news organizations to question the president. The Obama administration was to be all about new media: Twitter, Facebook and text messages, and mainstream media feared they might become irrelevant.

Well, as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, it hasn't worked out that way so far.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The next Obama exclusive comes tomorrow on ABC News. Actually, it'll take place on all four of the network's main daily news shows, including an interview with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" and a primetime town hall on health care policy that will stretch late into the night. All four will be broadcast straight from the White House.

Mr. DAVID WESTON (President, ABC News): That may be unprecedented.

FOLKENFLIK: That's a pretty pleased David Weston, the president of ABC News.

Mr. WESTON: For us, it's a way of drawing attention to this subject, which we believe is an important subject and deserves careful, thorough, thoughtful discussion.

FOLKENFLIK: The White House picked neither the questioners, nor the questions. But some conservatives and Republicans claim ABC is becoming a handmaiden of the administration, especially its drive for an expanded government role in health care. Here's a not-so-pleased Sean Hannity on Fox News.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sean Hannity Show")

Mr. SEAN HANNITY (Host, "The Sean Hannity Show"): President Obama's love affair with the mainstream media continues, but as we learn more about next week's Mickey Mouse-sponsored infomercial, one thing is becoming clear: journalism in America is dead.

FOLKENFLIK: Even so, cover stories about the Obamas are sending magazines flying off the shelves, and he's played along, giving interviews to Newsweek, Parade and Us Weekly, as well as the New York Times, NPR News and nearly all the major TV news outlets, including CNBC, where President Obama killed a fly while mulling an answer on financial reform.

On NBC, anchor Brian Williams and camera crews got more than an interview. They got access to off-limits White House corridors for their two-hour feature entitled "Inside the Obama White House."

President BARACK OBAMA: After a phone call to the German chancellor, I will be sitting down with my national security team.

FOLKENFLIK: They got good ratings, too.

Over on the "CBS Sunday Morning" show on Father's Day, Harry Smith explored the president's personal history - his absent father and his very present daughters.

(Soundbite of TV show, "CBS Sunday Morning")

Mr. HARRY SMITH (Co-Anchor, CBS): Along with the role of commander-in-chief and leader of the free world, Barack Obama would be first dad.

FOLKENFLIK: In fact, if you surf with your remote, the guy is everywhere. Bill Plant has covered the White House for CBS News since 1981.

Mr. BILL PLANT (Reporter, CBS News): I think President Obama has been more visible in the first five months of his administration than any president, modern or otherwise.

FOLKENFLIK: Of course, the White House very much relies on social media, YouTube channels and blogs to convey messages to desired audiences. But Plant says aides have concluded that it's worth playing ball with the mainstreamers, too - at least until some crisis makes the administration pull back.

Mr. PLANT: They have a brand to sell, and that brand is Barack Obama. His agenda is enormous, and they're using him to promote it.

FOLKENFLIK: It's so bold that the president recently saw fit to joke about it at one of those black-tie D.C. affairs where journalists mingle with politicians. President Obama said he had been tossing and turning over what to say in his remarks.

Pres. OBAMA: Finally, when I couldn't get back to sleep, I rolled over and asked Brian Williams what he thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FOLKENFLIK: So, I had to do the same - absent the rolling over part. And here's what Williams said.

Mr. WILLIAMS: If you're the Obama White House, you let NBC News in and hope to tell the tale you want to tell. If you're NBC News, you hope to sneak in that West Wing and get all you can get.

FOLKENFLIK: NBC's Williams can laugh at himself as well as anybody, but Williams says "Inside the White House," the network's sixth such special for six presidents, serves a purpose.

Mr. WILLIAMS: There is fascination with his children, his dog. It's understandable. It's an American fascination. It's only a problem when it's at the expense of critical coverage.

FOLKENFLIK: There's plenty of substance to scrutinize - White House influence over the economy, crises flaring in North Korea and Iran, combat troops in harm's way. Yet, for all that, President Obama seems to enjoy his treatment at the hands of the press. As he said at that dinner…

Pres. OBAMA: "Inside the Obama White House" is my favorite new show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: There's just something really compelling about the main character.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FOLKENFLIK: For now, of course, that main character's cast largely as the hero, but stay tuned for twists in the plot.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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