Up | February 24, 2013
>>> all right, robert gibbs , robert gibbs , you are in to extend the puppet master metaphor, perhaps. my point being here's my question. you get 600 requests aiews of the presiden t let's say or a thousand or whatever, right? and i do think one of the points that's true in that politico piece is that there has been a change structurally, right? there's still only one white house , right? there's no competition for another president or another president adviser, but instead of ten outlets the white house is dealing with, there's 600, right? and so now you have to make these choices sitting in your role formerly as the head of the white house press secretary of who gets that access. my first question to you is what is the thinking? literally how do you go about making that decision? there's not to be some spread sheet that here are the four million outlets that want to talk to us and what does that meeting look like where you say him, him and her.
>> chris, you're right. i used to keep and my assistant used to keep a spread sheet of pending requests but you also have spreadshe hets of viewership, the reach of different things. two things have changed this relationship a bit over the past few years, and that is that just really the viewership being so dispersed in this country. in 198050 million people watched the evening news, the nightly newscast. my first year in the white house , that was a little bit more than 22 million people. so the viewership is very dispersed. and the second thing is the advent of technology. social media and the internet have not just for the white house but literally every brand in america produces now some of its own content to deliver directly to people. now, that does that mean that that content is intended to supersede everything else people right see it just provides a different viewpoint or perspective, it's not to supplant that.
>> you're saying part of it is the audience. like oscar joyner is saying, we reach 70% of african-americans, we want to talk to those voters.
>> very easy decision to do tom joyner .
>> in it also an easy decision because tom joyner is not going to ask you very hard questions or be predisposed to be critical of you?
>> no, i think in some -- i think as oscar said, tom isn't going to ask you the gotcha of the day or some crazy thing that washington is all in a tizzy about from 1:00 p.m . to 4:00 p.m . on a monday afternoon. but i will say this. if you watch president obama , right, he gives long, expansive answers. i tend to think an interviewer that gives the president the space to give an answer is going to be far more understanding about what the president is thinking than somebody who looks like they're playing gotcha and interrupting him every seven or eight seconds and he's never going to be able to spit out what his answer is. we always looked for places that were longer for him and we had the ability to give those longer answers to.
>> do you -- in your role as press secretary, is your job to maximize the political appealingness -- political appeal, that's the word we use occasionally, that's why i'm not press secretary, maximize the political appeal of the president of the united states or do you view it as balancing two competing interests, which is maximizing the president's political appeal and dparn guaranteeing some public access which is to say sometimes doing things that might not make the president look good because you also have a role as being a defender of the public's right to have access to the president?
>> well, i think you have to do -- to be successful and to not cause this to be a story literally every day, you have to do obviously some of each. obviously my job as press secretary was to maximize the president's viewpoint, to maximize his image. and look, because of the fact that you have to explain things that are going on in this country, there are definitely things that you're going to do that are going to not necessarily make you look good or paint you in a good light, so you have to do some of each. and, you know, there are things that each president has to do. you do take questions at these things. you do have a pool that you cart around with you. if the president goes to play basketball this morning or if the president goes to watch his daughter play basketball this morning, all these guys load up in a van and go with him just in case something happens. so you have that with you. but obviously, look, i was listening to that first discussion. the job of the white house is not to lift the press corps in some noble fashion. that's not what they're there had to. that's not what the white house is there to do. there will always be some tension, obviously, in this relationship and in a democracy that's probably a good thing.
>> robert, how would you have handled the tiger woods situation? how would you have handled golfgate if you had been stuck down there?
>> i would have -- i would have probably laughed and then thought not much more about it. there are times in which -- look, the story obviously -- the guy that was tweeting for the golf magazine is a member of the club. you know, so i'm sure he got -- he might have gotten some inside information about tiger woods or whatever. but everybody has got a -- everybody that has a twitter account is basically a political reporter these days. but, you know, there are times -- there are times in which the white house wants the president to be able to just go be a real person and play golf with somebody. so you're not going to provide a picture. i don't think quite frankly there's some duty for the white house to provide a picture every time the president does something.
>> but here's my question about access. you're saying that there's an inherent logic to some of the access that's granted but it also seems to me that access is an economy. you know very well that an interview granted to a magazine that they can put on their cover literally means money for that magazine and ratings for a network that can get it. there's a pecuniary interest on the part of the outlet of scoring big interviews with the president or the first lady and that's something that you have the power to grant. what it looks like from someone who isn't getting those interviews is that there's essentially a kind of corrupt economy in which that's granted tacitly in exchange for friendly coverage.
>> you should sit in on some of the president's interviews, chris.
>> i watch them and i read them.
>> the notion that i sit there and try to figure out who's going to make money off of the cover of a magazine, you're giving us a whole -- you're giving us way too much credit.
>> that's what i'm saying is when an interview is asked for from you, right, everybody understands that the granting of that interview is a big deal to who gets it. it means a lot. granting it to them grants them a gift economy of a favor.
>> but he doesn't grant them so i can get ratings. i accept them if i can. but he doesn't accept it so i can get ratings on my morning show . when we ask for it, we receive it because of who we are and the access, like i said, that we give directly to the voters. the new 18 to 34-year-old voter that's out there that the past two campaigns have been trying to appeal to, they aren't attracted to the same mediums. they aren't attracted to these things sitting across our desk. they're on their smartphones, looking at things that are less than 50 words, they're looking at the characters you can get on twitter and facebook and that's the news that they want. they get everything they want in that salacious quick headline without having to read everything on page 6 .
>> let me jump in on something. you said, you know, the reason that you care at all about the sort of democratic freedom of the press aspect or the access or the sort of noble transparency aspect is that you want to avoid questions or avoid trouble. you want to avoid making access the story and that's why you kind of have to kind of grant some of thee things. i'm wondering --
>> i don't think that's exactly what i said, but go ahead.
>> unti feel like i'm back in the white house pressroom.
>> i feel like i'm back there too. i'm wondering, do you think there is a purpose to having the white house press corps ?
>> that's a really good question. is it just an outmoded institution?
>> i guess i'm curious what function does it serve? if you're not making decisions based on looking at the seating chart, if you're not making decisions based on looking at the old hierarchy of media, is there a purpose to having people there?
>> let me be clear, i didn't say that you're not making decisions based on the hierarchy or you're not -- you're making decisions based on reach, right? probably the president has done the most interviews with " 60 minutes ." why is that? because more people watch " 60 minutes " than any other news program in the country. why do you talk to tom joyner ? because, as oscar said, you can reach 70% of african-americans with one phone call from the residence. why wouldn't you do something like that? you're making decisions on that spreadsheet on interviews based on the reach. as i said, 22 million people -- collectively watch the evening news broadcast in a country of 310 million people. any interview you do, you have to hope for a factor of exponentiality. so if i give an interview to " rolling stone " magazine or if i give an interview to " 60 minutes ," that it's not just simply going to be seen by the readership or viewership of that one outlet, but it's going to be recreated and reshown on the platforms of hundreds of millions of people and the message can get spread. we don't live in a society where you can just put up a blog post and say i've reached 310 million people. they now know what the president is doing. i can now go back to, you know, eating popcorn and bonbons. that's not the way the whole thing works.
>> i want to ask about the second aspect of transparency which i think is different than access. i think access is about internal press competition and transparency is what the public knows and has access to and i want to talk about that after this