Though it is no secret that President Barack Obama meets regularly behind closed-doors with high-profile journalists, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates played coy when asked if he’s ever met the commander-in-chief, though publicly available records indicate that he has.
In an interview with The New Republic, Coates was asked if he thought that Obama had read the writer’s recent article calling for reparations for slavery.
“Do you know if the president’s read the piece?” the interviewer asked.
“I don’t know. I hope so. Don’t know though,” Coates replied.
“Have you met him? Do you see him ever?” he was asked.
“I can’t comment on that,” said Coates. “I’m not allowed to talk about that.”
The interviewer pressed, saying ,”Because I know he does meet with liberal journalists sometimes.”
“Right, right,” Coates replied.
“Alright, well I can see I’m not going to get this one out of you.”
“No,” said Coates, laughing.
But what’s the big secret?
Publicly available White House logs show that a man named “Ta-Nehisi Coates” visited the White House twice, on Oct. 7, 2013 and on Feb. 12, 2014.
The visitee is listed in both meetings as “POTUS,” the acronym for the president of the United States. The meetings took place in the Roosevelt Room, according to the records, and a total of 13 people attended both events.
What’s more, the other visitors that attended the White House at those times are in the same line of work as Coates, who focuses heavily on issues of race at his blog at The Atlantic, and in his print features.
The cream-of-the-crop of the journalist set visited with Obama in the October meeting.
Ross Douthat, Thomas Friedman, David Leonhardt and David Brooks of The New York Times were in attendance. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Ruth Marcus and Frederick Hiatt were there as well. David Frum, now of The Atlantic, Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal and David Remnick of The New Yorker joined Coates at the gathering.
A number of journalists have spoken openly about their closed-door pow-wows with the president, which often take place ahead of major policy changes. For instance, last month Obama held a closed-door meeting with foreign policy journalists ahead of his announcement of a troop draw-down in Afghanistan.
The meeting, held earlier this year, brought together a more progressive group. The two mainstays were Brooks and Dionne, who Obama has previously mentioned as being among his favorite journalists. Brooks is a moderate conservative, while Dionne is liberal.
Matt Bai and Garance Franke-Ruta of Yahoo! News were at the February summit. Two MSNBC employees, host Joy-Ann Reid and on-air contributor Perry Bacon, who has since joined NBC News, were there.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a progressive website, and Fernando Espeulas, the founder of Latin media giant StarMedia joined the visit.
PBS’s Gwen Ifill, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and the National Journal’s Ron Fournier attended the Roosevelt Room shindig.
The focus of the meeting is unclear, though two weeks after the meeting took place Obama unveiled his “My Brother’s Keeper” program, aimed at African American youth. Many of the attendees at the February meeting, including Coates, were African American.
Coates could not be reached for comment.
In his interview, Coates said he was surprised by the response to his article on slavery reparations. The idea is not a new one, he said.
He also praised Obama, who he called “deeply curious.”
“He’s the first president, as I’ve said before, that could ostensibly, with some credit, teach an African American studies course,” said Coates. “And not just because he was president.”