After his big five television interviews on Sunday, President Obama carved out an even larger slice of time for one print journalist, hitting the links for 18 holes of golf with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
The only other players, according to a pool report, were Ray Lahood, the Transportation Secretary, and Marvin Nicholson, a White House aide who previously worked on the Obama and Kerry campaigns.
Friedman joins a small, elite list of opinion journalists from traditional outlets who have been granted private — and largely off the record — audiences with The President. Back in January, Obama spent about 75 minutes with Friedman’s Times colleagues Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, along with National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein, Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson. That meeting balanced out a longer dinner for conservative opinion journalists from traditional outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, such as George Will, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan and Paul Gigot.
Friedman retains a large, influential following on international and energy issues, so it’s understandable that Obama found some quality time for him during this weekend press blitz, especially since the columnist missed the huddles in January. To date, however, it is striking that the White House’s opinion media targets for these meetings are almost exclusively drawn from the op-ed pages of traditional newspapers. (Andrew Sullivan and Rachel Maddow, on the Right and the Left, are the main exceptions.) So far, there appears to be little interest in meetings for progressive media online, or progressive radio, or progressive opinion magazines — from Mother Jones to American Prospect to yes, The Nation — even though Obama’s campaign excelled by looking well beyond traditional print media.
White House aides have previously countered these concerns by stressing that the President engages new media in his press conferences, and recently talked with bloggers in a health care conference call, and that he also engaged citizen media through several online town halls. All to the good. But when it comes to private time on the golf course, as Tom Friedman can tell you, the media world still ain’t flat.