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Not All Obama News Conferences Made the Same

President Barack Obama conducts the daily press briefing at the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama conducts the daily press briefing at the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

When President Obama tomorrow offers his latest comments on the BP oil spill and takes questions from reporters, it remains to be seen what kind of news conference it will be. They are not all the same.

When he took questions in the East Room for the better part of an hour in prime time -- which Mr. Obama last did ten months ago on July 22, 2009 -- it was deemed to be a formal, full-scale, solo White House news conference.

But when he and President Calderon of Mexico responded to a single question apiece last week at a joint press availability, also in the East Room, that event was seen to be a lower grade of press conference.

That's why there's a difference of opinion on whether Mr. Obama's last formal White House news conference was that Q&A session last July or instead a surprise appearance he made in the White House Briefing Room on February 9, 2010. At the latter, he took 12 questions from six reporters after making a statement about his talks earlier in the day with Congressional leaders of both parties.

By my count, Mr. Obama has done six formal, full-scale White House news conferences, including the one on February 9. Four of the six were prime-time events in the East Room that lasted between 52 minutes and 59 minutes. Then there was a 53 minute session in the Briefing Room on June 23 and the disputed 35 minute event on February 9.

But add up all the press availabilities Mr. Obama has done, including abbreviated sessions with foreign leaders, and some solo news conferences at home and abroad, and the number of press events he's done since taking office climbs to 49.

During the same period of time in his presidency, George W. Bush took part in a total of 33 press availabilities of all varieties of which five were formal, solo White House news conferences. Only one was an evening event in prime time. The others were daytime sessions lasting about half an hour.

Besides press conferences, Mr. Obama has also sat for 190 interviews with members of the press, far more than any of his recent predecessors during their first 16 months in office.

The numbers reveal that Mr. Obama finds news conferences less appealing a format for conveying his views than one-on-one interviews.

Keep those numbers in mind as you watch Mr. Obama field questions tomorrow. Most will focus on the oil spill and criticism that he was slow to respond to the crisis, a charge his immediate predecessor faced in 2005 in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Also keep an eye on what you perceive to be the president's comfort level as he faces questions on other matters. Then, make a guess as to how long it will be before his next press conference.


Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.