- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Despite his pledge to run the most open and transparent White House in history, President Obama has held the exact same number of formal news conferences as his immediate predecessor and far fewer than the two presidents before that.

The president’s news conference Tuesday, dominated by questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and his foreign policy on Syria and Libya, marks the 67th time Mr. Obama has faced reporters and cameras directly and extensively during his three years in office, according to an analysis by The Washington Times of tracking by the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

At the same point in President George W. Bush’s time in office, he also had held 67 news conferences. Mr. Obama ranks far behind presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, each of whom had held about 70 percent more news conferences at the same point in their first terms.

Mr. Clinton, who loved the limelight and often seemed to relish his interactions with the White House press corps with the notable exception of the prolonged period when the Monica Lewinsky scandal dominated headlines, had held 114 after three years and two months of his first term. The elder Mr. Bush ranks the highest with 117 news conferences at the same point in his White House tenure.

Before Tuesday, the first news conference of his re-election year effort, Mr. Obama’s last formal, solo full-scale news conference was Oct. 6, although he has since then held seven abbreviated “press availabilities,” according to records kept by CBS Radio’s veteran White House reporter Mark Knoller.

“President Obama keeps saying he has the most transparent administration, but it appears to be far more opaque than George W. Bush’s White House,” said Richard Benedetto, a former White House correspondent for USA Today and veteran Washington journalist who teaches journalism at American University. “We never lacked for words directly from the president on key issues of the day.”

In addition to holding formal press conferences, Mr. Bush would usually answer one or two questions during photo ops, Mr. Benedetto added, but Mr. Obama has a tendency to use administration surrogates, such as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to speak out on touchy issues, leaving him free to avoid the controversy.

“Why the White House press corps doesn’t call him out is beyond me,” he said.

After the president suffered a public-relations blow during the late-summer debt talks, Democratic were wringing their hands over his failure to move Republicans, and the president’s disapproval rating peaked at 54 percent in late August.

Coming out of the August recess, Mr. Obama launched his “We Can’t Wait” campaign urging congressional Republicans to approve multibillion-dollar jobs programs and payroll-tax cuts.

But in early October, Mr. Obama still faced a barrage of questions about Washington gridlock and whether the public had given up on Washington being able to provide solutions to the country’s most vexing problems.

In the intervening months, Mr. Obama has seemed to avoid the full formal news conferences until his poll numbers improved in February, edging close to the 50 percent mark amid signs that the economy is on the mend. The president also has since won a political battle with Republicans over extending the payroll-tax cut and unemployment benefits without passing spending cuts or tax increases to offset the cost.

He has granted several interviews with targeted media outlets, including a wide-ranging interview Feb. 23 with Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language TV network.

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