Presidential Interview “Lightening Rounds”

Of the five TV interviews President Obama sat for yesterday, two involved, toward the end, what the anchors described as “lightening rounds,” or a series of rapid-fire questions. Here is what that looked like on CNN:

ANDERSON COOPER: Final questions, just a quick lightning round, just a couple of fun questions. What’s the latest on the dog search?

OBAMA: We are going to get it in the spring. I think the theory was that the girls might be less inclined to do the walking when it was cold outside.

COOPER: Portuguese water dog? You don’t know yet?

OBAMA: You know, we’re still experimenting.

COOPER: Coolest thing about your new car?

OBAMA: You know, I thought it was the phones until I realized that I didn’t know which button to press. That was a little embarrassing.

COOPER:: Have you had a cigarette since you’ve been to the White House?

OBAMA: No, I haven’t had one on these grounds. And I — you know, sometimes it’s hard, but, you know, I’m sticking to it.

COOPER: You said, “on these grounds.” I’ll let you pass on that…

So, with Cooper it was dogs and cars and cigarettes. And here, on Fox News, was Chris Wallace’s “lightening round” with the president:

WALLACE: So let’s do what we can, sir — I used to do this with you as a candidate, but I’m going to ask you as president — do a lightning round of quick questions and answers about specific changes [to the stimulus bill].

You reportedly told Senate Democratic leaders, when you met with them yesterday, that you want some changes in the bill.

Tax credits for people who buy homes or business? Good or bad?

OBAMA: I think it has some potential, and I’m willing to take a look at it.

WALLACE: Lower, federally-financed — let me rephrase. Federally-guaranteed lower mortgage rates?

OBAMA: I think that we’ve got to take a look at the whole package of housing. Now, keep in mind that our intention has always been that, in addition to this recovery and reinvestment package, that we’re also going to have a housing bill, that we have also got to fix the banking system, that we’re going to have to make sure that, for example, issues like executive compensation for banks that are getting money through the TARP, that that’s dealt with.

So we’re moving on parallel tracks on a whole host of issues.

How much of the housing issue is dealt with in this bill, versus a separate bill, I think is something that we have got to discuss. But I actually agree with Democrats and Republicans that we’ve got to do more to provide relief to homeowners to prevent foreclosure.

WALLACE: Strip out the “buy American” provision for steel and iron in the bill, which a number of our allies are saying is too protectionist?

OBAMA: I agree that we can’t send a protectionist message. I want to see what kind of language we can — we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake, though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.

WALLACE: When you see how well the Iraqi provincial elections went last weekend and how sharply the violence in Iraq has fallen, could the 16-month time line for getting our combat troops out slip?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I’ve been meeting with the joint chief of staff and Bob Gates, who I think is outstanding, one of my appointments. And the interesting thing I think there’s a greater convergence than you would think watching the news media or having listened to us during the campaign.

Part of it is because of the outstanding work that was done by our military. But violence has gone down. You saw an election that was successful and peaceful and we’ve got to continue to give support to Iraqi security forces.

But I actually think that we can create a situation in which it is possible for us to draw down our troops in a responsible fashion, that meets my criteria for putting more troops into Afghanistan, but also meets the criteria of all of us to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraqis (inaudible)

WALLACE: But is your job now in this office as commander in chief, a general (inaudible) says to you, we’re going to do it, but it’s going to take a little more than 16 months.

Are you open-minded on that?

OBAMA: I’ve said throughout that I have a conversation with my joint chiefs of staff and commanders on the ground. That’s what I did the day after our the day I was sworn in and we are going to make sure that we have the best possible plan to achieve America’s national security interests.

So: Which “lightening round” was tougher? Which will make more “news?”

On Morning Joe earlier, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough spoke admiringly of the Wallace interview (both anchor and subject):

The Obama administration put the president out to talk to Fox News and Chris Wallace went after him. Really tough. Barack Obama is not hiding from anybody. He’s going out there and answering the tough questions.

More of Wallace’s “tough questions:”

WALLACE: Since you became president, you have warned Republicans, quote, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

OBAMA: Now, how do you know that’s a quote?

WALLACE: Well, I read it in the media.

OBAMA: Yeah.

WALLACE: Did you not say…

OBAMA: I just wanted - I’m not sure that was the exact quote.

WALLACE: Let me throw another one at you and you tell me whether this is an exact quote. You were widely quoted, when you met with the House GOP caucus saying, go ahead, (inaudible) I’ll watch Fox News and feel bad about myself.

OBAMA: That one I did say.

WALLACE: Is perhaps — let me just raise the possibility — are you a trifle thin-skinned?

OBAMA: No, no, no. I said it in good humor. I think everybody understood that that was a joke.

No, I think, Chris — I think it’s fair to say that I don’t always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that’s part of how democracy is supposed to work. You know, we’re not supposed to all be in lock step here, and you’ve always been very gracious to me and…


WALLACE: … improves or hurts my stock at Fox.

OBAMA: But they heard it.

Those five interviews:

ABC News
CBS News
Fox News
NBC News

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.