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U analysis of presidential press conferences wonders whether Obama is avoiding media

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A University of Minnesota analysis out today shows President Obama held fewer solo news conferences in his first year in office than all but three U.S. presidents dating to Herbert Hoover. Most of Obama’s press conferences (63 percent) were jointly held abroad with world leaders, the study said.

U Professor Eric Ostermeier found that Obama, with 11, bested just George W. Bush (5), Ronald Reagan (7) and Richard Nixon (8). Reagan, Ostermeier notes, had a fair excuse given that he spent part of his first year recuperating from being shot.

“George W. Bush’s lack of press conferences early in his administration was also of little surprise in light of the ‘bristly’ relationship he was viewed to have with the press corps,” Ostermeier wrote. “Barack Obama, however, was considered by many throughout most of his presidential campaign, as well as the early months of his presidency, to have had a ‘love affair’ with the media — viewed, by some of his critics, as a masterful marionette pulling the strings (and sometimes the heart strings) of sympathetic journalists.” (Emphasis his)

“And yet, as Obama’s poll numbers dropped — so, too, have the number of his media availabilities.”

Asked for a reaction to the study, a White House spokesman pointed me to a White House briefing given by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Jan. 11, where Gibbs gives what looks to this reporter like an excellent example of how to change the subject. As such the entire applicable exchange is reprinted below.

Q    When is the President going to hold a news conference?  Not that you’re not adequate.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I appreciate that.  (Laughter.)  Chip asked this question on Friday —

Q    Yes, but she’ll get an answer.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Well, she is nicer than you, Chip.  (Laughter.)

Q    I mean, he’s gone an obscenely long time, not holding one.

MR. GIBBS:  But again, not the word “adequate.”  (Laughter.)

I don’t see one on the schedule at least in the short term, which is precisely what I said —

Q    Is he avoiding us?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Again, the last time we had this conversation here about the President’s media strategy I was informed by many of you that the President was overexposed.

Q    But you don’t have a good reason for not holding one.

Q    Who in this room said that the President was overexposed?  One person in this room that said he was overexposed.

MR. GIBBS:  No, we had a whole round of questioning on that.

Q    Let’s take a vote.

Q    Seriously.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Okay.  Who at some point —

Q    Raise your hand if you do not believe he’s overexposed.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Okay, so that’s one.

Q    That was very confusingly phrased.

MR. GIBBS:  No, that was actually quite well-phrased and one person —

Q    And that is not the answer. The answer is accountability.

Q    Who wants a news conference?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Right, who wants to win the lottery?

Q    Are you saying our chances are just the same?

MR. GIBBS:  Scratch and win, Major.  Scratch and win.

Q    Seriously, one person in this room that said he was overexposed, just one.

MR. GIBBS:  That’s not true.

Q    Just name one person who said he was overexposed.

MR. GIBBS:  I will go back and look at the transcript and we can —

Q    Well, we have questions about pundits.  But we’re not pundits; we’re reporters.  There are pundits out there who were saying — (laughter) —

MR. GIBBS:  Do you have a question or an opinion, Mr. Pundit?

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