(CBS News) President Obama has not taken questions from the White House press corps since June 19, an issue exacerbated by the fact that Mitt Romney - who historically has only held press conferences sparingly - has held multiple news conferences in recent weeks. Instead, Mr. Obama has done a number of interviews with local TV news reporters in the various markets where he's been campaigning and has come under criticism for recently doing interviews with outlets such as ESPN, People Magazine, "Entertainment Tonight" and radio shows instead of taking questions from more hard news outlets.
The Romney campaign, whose candidate has been uncharacteristically chatty with national political reporters lately, has seized on the opportunity to criticize the president for his selection of interviews. "President Obama was on a radio program down in New Mexico, not talking about jobs, not talking about the fiscal crisis in this country, not talking about the rapid increase in debt that has occurred under his administration, instead he was talking about his favorite chili peppers," said Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN this morning.
Later on the same program, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, defended the selection of interviews.
"I don't think that they're more important, but I think they're equally important," she said, referring to whether or not the campaign felt entertainment news outlets were more valuable than the national news media. "I think that's where a lot of Americans get their news. And I think the president's going to continue doing that."
While the president did talk politics in some of the interviews - in the "Entertainment Tonight" interview, he repeatedly defended Joe Biden's recent comment about "chains" - the interviews also touched on lighter topics. Speaking on Thursday to a radio station in Albuquerque, N.M., the president revealed some of his favorite restaurant recommendations in Chicago, his hometown, as well as an affinity for the song "Crazy in Love," by Beyonce.
Though they delight in hitting the president of over this, the Romney campaign is familiar with both People and the TV entertainment news shows as well. In April, Ann Romney gave an emotional interview to Nancy O'Dell at "Entertainment Tonight", where she revealed that she had suffered a multiple sclerosis flare-up around Super Tuesday, which no one - even her husband - knew at the time. She described becoming fatigued and losing the ability to control her speech. "I start to stumble a little bit and so those things were happening and I thought, 'Uh oh, big trouble.'"
People is no stranger to the Republican beat either - just last week joining the Romneys and Ryans on a campaign bus. In the August 17 issue, Ryan discusses his preferences for classic rock bans AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, and reveals that his latest splurge was a Stihl chain saw. When Romney's favorite movie, "O Brother Where Art Thou" came up, Ryan said that he had of course seen it. Ann responded that they could quote the whole movie, and her husband chimed in, laughing, that "He's probably seen it once and he can quote the lines. I've seen it multiple times, and it's taken me a long time to get the quotes."
Neither candidate's appetite for indulging the national press corps' hunger for question-and-answer sessions stands in contrast to some past presidential candidates. 2008 GOP nominee John McCain was famous for his open banter with reporters and his "Straight Talk Express" bus, where he would commonly chat with reporters traveling with him, on and off the record. And this past year, during their quests for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingirch, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman weren't shy around the national press, regularly speaking to reporters.
So far in 2012, Mr. Obama has held 9 press availabilities, including 3 full-blown solo press conferences, with his last on June 19, according to CBS News' Mark Knoller. In comparison, at this point in 2004, during his re-election campaign, President George W. Bush had held 14 press availabilities, including two full-blown solo press conferences, the last being June 10, 2004.