Since a spat in 2010 over the release of an interview, C-Span has not been granted another interview with the President, Vice President, First Lady or lower level White House officials. The incident is reminiscent of what happened with another potentially damaging interview clip that was held back by CBS News during the 2012 election.
The Washington Post has the story based on another tidbit from Sharyl Attkisson’s forthcoming book, Stonewalled. In August 2010, President Obama gave an interview to C-Span’s Brian Lamb. During the interview, Lamb asked the President what he had changed in the Oval Office. President Obama replied, “Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times, wedecided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.”
But it turned out there was a major renovation of the Oval Office scheduled for just a few days later while the Obama family was on vacation. And once the renovation was complete the Washington Post published a story with photos showing all the changes that had been made. And that’s when the White House got antsy about the, as yet unaired, interview the President had given C-Span.
According to both Sharyl Attkisson and a spokesman for C-Span who verified her account, the White House wanted the cable channel to hold off on releasing the President’s comments until later in the year when a documentary they were slated to be a part of what complete. What the White House did not want was people seeing the President say he was holding off out of respect for “very difficult economic times” just a week before renovations.
To its credit, C-Span did not do as it was told. It released the footage on Aug. 31st, the same day as the Post (and NPR and others) were reporting on the renovations. Attkisson claims that this act of disobedience brought a threat from Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest to cut off C-Span’s access to the White House. And it seems the threat was carried out.
That was four years ago. What has happened since then? “I will say thatwe’ve not been able to get interviews with the president, vice presidentor the first lady as well,” says Mortman. And what about lesser-rankingWhite House officials? “No results at the lower levels,” says Mortman,noting that the White House generally cites scheduling issues inrejecting interview requests.
So consider the pattern of behavior here. The White House knows that something the President said during a prior interview could be potentially damaging if it is released at the wrong time. So they contact C-Span and pressure them to not release the clip until later when it will be less likely to be noticed and therefore less potentially embarrassing to the President.
Now compare this pattern to another story from Attkisson’s book. As I discussed here, Attkisson accuses her former network, CBS, of withholding a video which showed that a key statement President Obama made during the 2nd debate was not true. Specifically, CBS’ 60 Minutes had video of Obama from 9/12 admitting that he didn’t know if Benghazi was terrorism and thought it was too soon to say, almost the opposite of what he’d claimed in the debate.
Of course we don’t know what messages the White House sent CBS News about this clip, but we do know they were aware it existed and that it could damage the President. We can safely assume they were concerned about it and that they certainly preferred that CBS News hold off releasing it until later.
Here is where the stories differ. Unlike C-Span, CBS News did not release video the White House did not want released. In fact they sat on the clip in question for nearly three weeks. It was quietly dumped on their website the Sunday night before the election with no fanfare and no explanation.
CBS News President David Rhodes reportedly told Attkisson, “Look, we fucked up….” This makes it sound as if it were all just a big mistake. But it’s quite a coincidence that what CBS News actually did is exactly what the White House had previously pressured C-Span to do under the same circumstances.