Obama sets record in news conferences

In the 22 days since winning the White House, President-elect Barack Obama has taken 22 questions from reporters and has done two sit-down television interviews.

The Democrat held his fourth press conference since Nov. 4 in Chicago Wednesday morning - his third in as many days - an unprecedented bit of access for reporters who have grown accustomed to President Bush’s infrequent moments taking questions and already surpassing the last four presidents-in-waiting.

Mr. Obama has beat his four predecessors in number of postelection, pre-inauguration press conferences, and is inheriting a troubled nation. With one Cabinet post officially named, he is working at a faster clip than former President Bill Clinton.

In 2000, Mr. Bush gave one press conference as president-elect, and not until Dec. 19, because the results of his victory over Vice President Al Gore were so long in dispute. As president-elect in 1992, Mr. Clinton held three pre-inauguration press conferences.

George H.W. Bush held one press conference as president-elect, on Nov. 11, 1988.

Ronald Reagan also held one press conference before his 1981 inauguration. He called the major press conference to trot out his Cabinet nominees, but didn’t show up himself.

In his four press conferences, Mr. Obama has called on 22 reporters, including Lynn Sweet from his hometown paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, who asked four questions and he answered each one. He took six questions Monday, just four questions Tuesday and three on Wednesday.

Some are grumbling that Obama transition aides preselected the reporters who would be allowed questions.

He’ll likely get another crack at it early next week when he names Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and members of his national security team.

Mr. Obama frequently has made big announcements in front of a video camera instead of speaking to members of the press. His decision to become the first candidate to decline public financing was communicated first to supporters in a Web video. Obama aides spoke to reporters about the news, but the candidate did not.

This is the most access reporters have had to Mr. Obama in weeks, as he repeatedly declined to answer questions shouted at him on the tarmac and did not hold press conferences in the final stretch of the campaign.

Mike Madden, Washington correspondent for Salon.com, said it is not helpful that the Obama transition makes its major announcements from Chicago instead of Washington because that makes it more difficult for news organizations who spent most of their travel budgets covering the campaign.

“I’d be going to the press conferences and trying to ask questions, but instead I’m watching on TV because it’s not worth the airfare just to maybe get a question in,” he said.

Mr. Obama so far has fielded two questions each from the Associated Press, NBC, CNN and Reuters news agency. He also has taken one question each from ABC, CBS, Bloomberg News, McClatchy, the Chicago ABC affiliate, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, National Public Radio and USA Today. He has called on all the networks except Fox News.

At each press conference, Mr. Obama had awritten list of reporters at his lectern, pausing to look down at it and read the name before looking up to find the reporter in the room.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama initially was more open with reporters, regularly taking questions. But there were long stretches when he avoided the press.

During a particularly heated week before the Texas and Ohio contests, Mr. Obama held a press conference to discuss his relationship with real estate developer Tony Rezko that did not go well, as several reporters shouted at him once he walked away from the podium. Rezko was convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery earlier this year.

“Guys, I mean come on. I just answered like eight questions,” he said as he left the room, noting he was running behind schedule.

About two months later, he scolded a reporter for asking a question about former President Carter’s meeting with Hamas while he was doing a photo opportunity at a diner, saying “Why is it that can’t I just eat my waffle?”

As president, Mr. Bush has held 49 solo press conferences, though his last was more than four months ago. He averages 12 questions but took 21, including follow-ups , at his most recent July 15 time on the podium.

Mr. Clinton held 62 solo press conferences, said Martha Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University and a recognized expert on this at the White House.

Mr. Bush has held 155 joint press conferences with foreign leaders, while Mr. Clinton held 131 total with foreign leaders.

Jon Ward contributed to this report.

About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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