Obama pays for avoiding the press

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has a very plausible theory to explain President Obama’s surprisingly poor debate performance Wednesday night. As Milbank writes,

Obama has set a modern record for refusal to be quizzed by the media, taking questions from reporters far less often than Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush. Though his opponent in 2008 promised to take questions from lawmakers like the British prime minister does, Obama has shied from mixing it up with members of Congress, too. And, especially since Rahm Emanuel’s departure, Obama is surrounded by a large number of yes men who aren’t likely to get in his face.

This insularity led directly to the Denver debacle: Obama was out of practice and unprepared to be challenged…

This is a good point, and there are other good reasons why Obama should be more open to the media.

In his biography, former Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger wrote that he encouraged then-Governor Reagan to hold frequent press conferences because

they convince the media that he’s not afraid of them and that he may even, perish the thought, have their best interests at heart. They mean any person holding frequent press conferences doesn’t have to remember so much or have to be briefed so thoroughly before each press conference. They mean the media has fewer topics about which to ask which again means the public figure has less to be concerned about…” (Emphasis mine.)

… So maybe this is evidence that Obama would have benefited from having more Neil Munros — and less sycophants — in the press corps, after all?

UPDATE: I missed this earlier, but the HuffPost’s Michael Calderone noted on Thursday that:

While it may seem like national political reporters and TV anchors haven’t challenged Obama much recently, it’s not because they’re shielding him from tough questions. They’ve rarely had the opportunity to ask any.

Obama hasn’t appeared on any of the Sunday public affairs shows since Sept. 2009, thus bypassing a traditional stop in which presidential candidates address the type of Beltway issues that are likely to come up at the debates. Obama hasn’t done interviews with top newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post since 2009, according to records kept by CBS News’ Mark Knoller. The president’s last New York Times sit-down was in Sept. 2010.

Matt K. Lewis