Barack Obama becomes first President to appear on five talk shows in one day

Outside the Roosevelt Room the rules were clear: 15 minutes per interview, no “editorial” Tweets and no live feed of the interview in progress.

When President Obama decided to perform the television equivalent of a triple salco on yesterday’s morning news shows, he knew that it had to be on his own turf and his own terms.

This was partly because his schedule had little space for one TV interview, let alone five back-to-back; partly because he could not let the interviewers know how much he was repeating himself, and partly because he knew the whole exercise was in danger of being mocked by critics as a “Full Celebrity Ginsburg”.

Mr Obama became the first President in history to appear on five talk shows in one day — one at 9am, two at 10am and two more at 10.30am. He achieved this not by racing between studios, but by summoning five anchors and their crews to the West Wing on Friday afternoon because — as one veteran White House speechwriter put it — he knew they would say yes. They did. The result was a sustained Obama blizzard in two languages — the Latino Univision channel translated him into Spanish — on the three subjects that currently dominate the presidency: healthcare, Afghanistan and the colour of his skin.

In five slightly different ways, he insisted that the $856 billion (£527 billion) health insurance reform package that he endorsed last week would not mean higher taxes for the middle class. He said that he was not interested in a US presence in Afghanistan for its own sake “or for saving face”. And he tried to end a debate on race for which he has to thank the former President Carter, who last week said that most of those who oppose Mr Obama’s policies do so because he is black.

It was not as if he had been absent from the airwaves. Mr Obama had already given six big set-piece speeches in the ten days since the official end of summer. His calculation was that today’s fragmented TV universe required multiple appearances where one would have sufficed a generation ago, and that only media junkies would accuse him of over-exposure.

“Are there some people who don’t like me because of my race?” he asked ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Univision in one form or another. He conceded that there probably were, but accused the media of exaggerating their importance. Conflict was “catnip” to the news channels, he told two of them. The only way to guarantee coverage was to be rude, he told all five.

Why did Mr Obama bother? “Because he can. Because it’s his way. Because he knew they would say yes,” Peggy Noonan, the author and Republican speechwriter, said during the multi-channel analysis of the multi-channel onslaught.

“He’s been on everything except the Food Channel,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, another influential Republican.

If the medium is the message, the medium is dance — one observer called Friday’s West Wing shuffle the “Lindy Hop”, after the 1920s nightclub craze — and the message is that, one way or another, the President wants to be heard.

For the millions of sensible Americans who stayed in bed yesterday there will be another chance to hear him tonight, when Mr Obama becomes the first sitting President to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman.


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