- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

NEW YORK | It’s the interview scoop that quickly gave Sen. Barack Obama second thoughts, and not because it revealed he leaves his suitcase where his children can trip over it.

The “Access Hollywood” interview in which the presumed Democratic presidential nominee and wife Michelle Obama allowed daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, to participate opened a curtain on a potential president’s family and raised questions about whether the girls should be “hands off” to journalists.

Although their parents did most of the talking and the girls mostly looked like they’d rather be going out for ice cream, Mr. Obama later said he and his wife got carried away. “I don’t think it’s healthy, and it’s something that we’ll be avoiding in the future,” he said Wednesday on ABC.

Rob Silverstein wishes Mr. Obama hadn’t said that. The “Access Hollywood” executive producer thinks Mr. Obama has nothing to regret.

The interview, spread out in four parts on the show last week, was conducted by correspondent Maria Menounos when the Obamas were in Montana on July 4. Sensing their viewers’ interest in the campaign, syndicated entertainment newsmagazines have done many light personality segments on the candidates, giving them a nonchallenging opportunity to show off their human side.

“Access Hollywood” had been pursuing the Obamas for months, and a producer was alerted that the couple would make time for them while in Montana.

The show intended to simply interview Mr. and Mrs. Obama. But Ms. Menounos ingratiated herself with the children - bonding over girlish enthusiasm for the Jonas Brothers - and they sat next to their parents for the interview. Producers quickly clipped microphones on their blouses.

“There was a very loose atmosphere,” Mr. Silverstein said. “It was one of those things where it was like lightning in a bottle. We got lucky.”

Generally, it’s not a good idea to make children that age available for interviews, said Charles Figley, chairman of the psycho-social stress research program at Tulane University. It can give children big heads and make them feel they have to perform, he said. A parent in this situation should also keep public images of their children to a minimum to avoid any abuse over the Internet.

That said, the “Access Hollywood” situation was the most ideal setting the Obamas could expect: it was an easygoing interview in a relaxed setting, with the children protected within the bonds of the family, Mr. Figley said.

At least according to what aired on “Access Hollywood,” Ms. Menounos directed most of her questions to the parents. It wasn’t until the third segment that she even asked the children a question: “What have you guys thought about the possibility of living in the White House someday?”

“It’d be very cool,” Sasha said. The older Malia said she was enthusiastic about the idea of redecorating a room.

Ms. Menounos also asked what they could do that would make their parents mad at them (“whining,” Sasha replied) and whether they found it cool that magazines were looking toward their mother for fashion sense.

Linda Ellerbee, who makes the “Nick News” specials for Nickelodeon, hasn’t requested interview time for the Obama children, although she imagines Nick’s audience would be keenly interested in them.

When interviewing children for her shows, Ms. Ellerbee always assures them that she would never let them make fools of themselves. If the child says something they later regret, or flubs an answer, Ms. Ellerbee will always allow a retake - a courtesy that news organizations generally don’t offer adults.

Joe Kelly, co-founder and president of Dads and Daughters, suspects the Obamas are reacting much like any parents would in the situation.

“You learn as you go along,” he said. “You learn as the kids grow and you learn about them as people and what’s good for them and what’s not good for them.”

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