A better question might be: “When will Obama talk to the press about anything.”
Generally speaking, Obama has been the least accessible candidate for president in a while. Howard Kurtz commented on this phenomena in January:
All traveling campaigns have a bubble-like quality, but Obama seems unusually insulated. One moment of absurdity came Tuesday, when reporters on the press bus were asked to dial into a conference call in which Obama announced a congressman’s endorsement—even though the candidate was nearby and just as easily could have delivered the news in person to the bus captives. Obama answered a few questions, but reporters are generally placed on mute after they speak so there can be no follow-up. (Clinton held a news conference the same morning.)
That afternoon, as the candidate was working his way through a raucous crowd at Linder University in Greenwood, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny shouted a question about whether Obama was allowing Bill Clinton to get inside his head.“Don’t try a cheap stunt like that. You’re better than that,” Obama told him with a smile. He finally suggested that “the other side must be rattled if they’re continually saying false things about us,” before walking away. What creates such awkwardness are long days when reporters have only seconds to bellow a question.
When Obama decided to do a round of interviews on the next day’s morning shows, not only did the campaign fail to notify the traveling correspondents the evening before, but a press aide insisted when asked about the rumor that he knew of no such plans.
And the isolation is even more pronounced when it comes to reporters who know the Rezko story. Sun Times blogger Lynn Sweet:
On Sunday, the chief strategist for the Obama campaign disagreed with my conclusion where I wrote that Obama has not talked to reporters who know the Tony Rezko story the best.
For more than a year, that has been a pretty small group of investigative journalistsâ€”from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. I checked with the Sun-Times reporters before I wrote my column and rechecked again. They all said they have never had a chance to discuss Rezko with Obama.
There have been two times where Obama took questions on Rezko reportersâ€”in Waukegan, Ill. in November, 2005 (transcript is reposted below) or LINK where none of the investigative reporters were present because Obama commented after a political event. There was also a hastily arranged April, 23, 2007, session where Obama talked to some Chicago reporters. The YouTube clip is from NBC5 and the Chicago Sun-Times.
On Sunday’s “This Week” show, Obama head honcho David Axelrod lied through his teeth when responding to a question about Lynn Sweet’s contention regarding access to local reporters with extensive knowledge of the Rezko case:
AXELROD: I think she is wrong. We’ve talked to reporters from—and he’s talked to reporters from both papers several times in
several sessions about this, and each time the conclusion is the same:
There’s no evidence of any wrongdoing related to Mr. Rezko.
What do the reporters in question have to say about that?
Sun-Times Reporter Tim Novak
â€œDavid Axelrod has never talked to me, Fusco or Mckinney about Obama. Neither has Obama.
All we’ve gotten are responses to written questions, and who knows who actually answered those. And occassionally we talk to (Bill) Burton.
But the point is that Obama himself has never sat down and discussed these questions about Rezko.â€
Sun-Times Reporter Chris Fusco
â€œTim is absolutely right about that one.â€
Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney
â€œWell, I know Chris and I have never had a sit-down interview with Obama. Axelrod might be referring to the December 2006 Q and A, but as you know those were written questions and written responses. I believe Tim’s experience was identical when he wrote about Rezko’s slum properties. Axelrod would have been more accurate, perhaps, had he said today that Obama has “communicated” with reporters (through spokesmen and a Q and A). But he hasn’t spoken to us directly about this. You are right. Axelrod is wrong.â€
Sun-Times Political Columnist Carol Marin recalls when Tim Novak broke his first major piece on Rezkoâ€™s slumlord holdings in Obamaâ€™s state senate district, Obamaâ€™s campaign delayed providing substantive answers for weeks.
This is the favorite ploy of the Obama campaign; if it’s about Rezko or some other controversy, please submit your questions in writing. That way, of course, they don’t have to take follow up questions or see the candidate stumble and fumble around trying to spin his way out of trouble.
And in one of the most incredible examples of this technique, the sellers of the house that Obama bought with the help of Rezko would only answer written questions and respond through the campaign. Whoever heard of such nonsense? Reporters were forced to submit questions – many of which went totally unanswered – through the campaign and received a response from the sellers also via campaign headquarters.
The Rezko trial that starts today is not expected to drop any bombshells on Obama. But there are many other aspects of Obama’s relationship with Rezko – legal work done for his slumlord management company, favors done for Rezko while both a US and state senator, and Obama’s connection to some of Rezko’s shadier associates – all of these questions must eventually be addressed by the candidate himself with the press. It won’t happen on the morning puff shows nor will it be satisfactory if some worshipful reporter were to interview Obama without any knowledge of the ins and outs of Chicago politics and the Rezko-Obama relationship.
Obama must sit down with reporters who will ask the right questions. Otherwise, future revelations – and I guarantee there’s more to come on this story – will only add to the candidate’s woes.