The Outburst Heard ‘Round The World

Our notoriously thin-skinned Chief Executive had a hissy fit when a brave reporter (Brad Watson) dared to correct one of his numerous false statements with a historical fact, and he was recorded scolding Watson after the interview, which will most likely be the last one for this newsman who refused to fawn all over President Obama like the majority of his collegues in the press are known to do.

The outburst heard ’round the world

  by Abby Phillip

When the even-keeled and cool President Obama gets prickly in public, it never goes unnoticed.

For Obama, who has carefully cultivated a reputation of easily managing confrontations with people who disagree with him, these moments are as rare as they are revealing of the person behind the presidency.

So it’s no surprise that Washington took notice when after a tense interview with a Texas TV reporter on Monday, Obama unclipped his microphone with no smile in sight, and tersely warned, “Let me finish my answers next time we do an interview, all right?”

The president of the United States was not happy. Obama had been corrected (he lost Texas by 12 points, not “a few,” in 2008), he was accused of punishing the state for political reasons (he denied that the White House had any part in the decision not to award a space shuttle to Houston), and he was challenged with the most basic of political questions: Why are you so unpopular in Texas?

And all that in a setting the White House anticipated would be largely free of tricky questions.

The conservative media type Matt Drudge broadcasted word of the interview on his website’s banner spot with the headline “First time: Reporter turns aggressive with Obama,” accompanied by the image of Obama, mid-reprimand.

On Twitter on Tuesday morning, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer took the bait by responding to the interview, which had been bouncing around the beltway echo chamber for hours.

The White House often expects the toughest questions from reporters outside of Washington, not the easiest, Pfeiffer tweeted.

The problem: The reporter’s questions weren’t particularly difficult, but they were clearly not what Obama was expecting. The result was a viral video that depicted Obama as angry when faced with tough questioning. And it unveiled some of the degree to which the White House would like to control its message.

Pfeiffer was asked by Time reporter Michael Scherer, “So will WFAA’s Brad Watson get another interview one day?”

Instead of quickly taking the high road, Pfeiffer suggested that Watson may truly be out in the cold after irritating the president. And he did it by revealing yet another trick of Washington communications: playing one news outlet against its rival.

“Right around the time we do our next interview with @TIME. I am kidding … or am I. @Newsweek is on the other line,” Pfeiffer responded.

It wasn’t the first time Obama has gotten a bit of bravado from local reporters who are granted a rare 7-minute one-on-one with him.

In March, just hours before Obama announced the attack on Libya, Philadelphia news reporter Jim Gardner was warned by Obama’s aides that he wouldn’t be taking any questions on that subject. Gardner asked anyway.

“I think as was already mentioned to you, I’m not going to comment beyond the statement that I made today,” Obama responded flatly.

That interview, which aired late on a Friday night, was buried beneath the news that Obama had ordered the strike. The White House had dodged another slew of potential headlines declaring that Obama had evaded a request to clarify the mission in Libya, but just barely.

There’s no question that there are significant upsides to the White House arranging local sit-downs. Among other reasons, the interviews shoot instantly to the top of local evening and nightly broadcasts in key battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania and, apparently, Texas. And outside the beltway, reporters might ask focused questions that give Obama a chance to circumvent the national narrative and pitch the local impact of his policies.

But Obama’s latest interview indicates at least some of the potential downsides. Obama’s prickly response to Watson’s questioning not only made the local news, but it suddenly became the national news as well.

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