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D.C.'s Go-To Guests

Newsmaker Shows’ Bookers Focus on Unresolved Democratic Contest, Leaving More Complicated Issues Off Their Agenda

They may seem faint lights at the distant end of long tunnels, but the end of the marathon 2008 presidential campaign and of the Bush administration’s eight years in power are in sight.

Signs of fatigue on both fronts became apparent as TelevisionWeek compiled its annual report card on the performance of politicians and officials who populate the Sunday morning newsmaker shows that are must-see TV inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway and within politically attuned circles throughout the country.

The Democratic presidential contest—which has defied predictions and pollsters—has effectively pushed other topics off the Sunday morning agendas at (in descending order of ranking by audience) NBC’s “Meet the Press With Tim Russert,” ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” CBS’ “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer,” “Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace” and CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer.”

For one thing, the public is hooked on it.

There are other issues—the economy and gas and food prices, for example—but they are hard to do in the newsmaker format without (a) becoming too wonkish for viewers and (b) being dismissed as just more grounds for disliking the Bush administration.

The administration officials who might have filled the guest chairs on newsmaker shows in other years have all but fallen off the list of people considered Big Gets.

In some cases, say the producers and bookers and moderators TVWeek interviewed, it’s a normal occurrence at the end of an eight-year administration, popular or not.

In some cases, administration officials, some of them once highly sought-after as guests, now are seen as being on perpetual spin cycle for so long their cachet has been wrung dry.

And in some cases, the officials clearly are deliberately keeping their profiles low. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said one newsmaker veteran, is laying so low, “She’s under the rug in the living room.”

As always, TVWeek granted total anonymity in return for straight talk from the people most familiar with newsmaker shows, from the booking to the green room to the hot seat.

Read on to see how they rate the D.C. Talkers.

MAKING THE LONG ROAD TO THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FEEL EVEN LONGER

Leading vote-getter: Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (“He’s stuck in the middle” of the party muddle); “so many unresolved issues,” including Michigan and Florida and the super-delegates (“I feel like I’m in ‘Groundhog Day,’” summed up one respondent); daily conference calls and counter-conference calls by the campaigns (“They go on and on. It wears you down. Both campaigns are working the ref.”).

Also mentioned: Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (“That was a long six weeks” leading up to the state’s Democratic primary); the Rev. Jeremiah Wright stuff that became a major plotline for presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; “any candidate who really doesn’t have a chance to win taking up political oxygen.”

2007: “Third-tier” wannabes including Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel for the Democrats and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo and Texas Rep. Ron Paul for the Republicans.

THE BIGGEST GET

Leading vote-getters: Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Obama, who are fighting it out in an unexpectedly unpredictable contest for their party’s presidential nomination.

Also mentioned: Bill Clinton, Sen. Clinton’s polarizing chief campaign surrogate (currently “impossible” to get for a newsmaker show); Sen. Obama’s wife, Michelle; Vice President Dick Cheney (“Definitely. Always a good interview”); California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose combo of “star power and political power and savvy” send ratings “through the roof when he’s on”); former Vice President Al Gore (“especially if he’s willing to say whom he’s supporting”); Gen. David Petraeus; Pope Benedict XVI.

2007: President Bush, Sen. Clinton.

UNDER THE MISTAKEN IMPRESSION THAT THEY ARE THE BIGGEST GET

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., long known for being drawn like a moth to the television spotlight.

Also mentioned: Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. (“believes he is the center of several universal issues”); Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass. (“so puffed up”); former Sen. John Edwards, D-S.C. (“If you’re going to endorse somebody, do it, already.”); representatives of the White House (“Bush and Cheney are on the sidelines. That goes for all administration officials. We haven’t talked to a White House booker in weeks.”).

2007: Sen. Clinton, Sen. Schumer and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

THE HARDEST TO GET

Leading vote-getter: Vice President Dick Cheney. “He doesn’t give a s***. He’s checked out,” said one respondent. “I don’t know what he does all day,” said another.

Also mentioned: Former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore (“just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview”); Michelle Obama; Sen. Reid (“never does Sunday shows”); Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (“very hard to book”); Bill Clinton; Hillary Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams; Mr. Edwards; “someone who’s actually in charge of the war.”

2007: Sen. Clinton.

PLAYS HARDEST TO GET

Leading vote-getter: Former Clinton White House aide Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., once more visible on newsmaker shows and now “always uses the family excuse” to avoid appearing and stay behind the scenes. (“He is playing an inside game, not an outside game.”)

Also mentioned: Mr. Dean (until late April); Sen. Kerry and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. (“You have to go through this long, arduous process.”); some surrogates.

2007: Sen. Kerry.

SURE TO MAKE THE MOST NEWS

Leading vote-getters: Any presidential candidate; Bill Clinton, who “makes headlines every time he speaks,” which is probably why he’s not accepting any newsmaker interviews.

Also mentioned: President Bush (“He’s still the president.”); Gov. Rendell, who has been “pretty good at making news in this political season.”

2007: President Bush; Sen. Specter.

DOESN’T MAKE THE NEWS THEY PROBABLY SHOULD

Leading vote-getter: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “never says anything.” “Everybody got really tired of the spin.”

Also mentioned: Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama (“They are almost too cautious.”); anyone from the administration (“There’s always fatigue at the end of an eight-year presidency.”; “Everything they say is taken with such a big grain of salt.”); anyone on Capitol Hill; former White House adviser Karl Rove (“We thought he would be more newsy.”); former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. (“He rolls nuggets out, then gets on TV and says, ‘Well, we have to look at this.’ Remember, he brought the entire press corps to Nebraska and then said he would have something to announce later.”).

2007: Ms. Rice.

MAKES THE MOST EFFECTIVE USE OF NEWSMAKER SHOWS

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Biden “always brings stuff to the table.”

Also mentioned: Newt Gingrich (“totally gets what Sunday shows are and has since he was a back-bencher in Congress” floating big ideas on TV); presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader; former candidate Ron Paul (“When he would go on shows, he would raise lots of money.”); Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.; “all those pundits trying to make names for themselves.”

2007: Category did not appear.

LEAVES THEIR BEST LINES IN THE GREEN ROOM

Leading vote-getters: Senators “jockeying for position.” “They all do.”

Also mentioned: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; former presidential candidate New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (“He talks a good game and then thinks better of it on camera.”); Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic candidate John Edwards.

2007: Sen. Hatch; Sen. Schumer.

STAR OF THE GREEN ROOM

Leading vote-getters: Sen. McCain, long a favorite with the people who have to book and moderate newsmaker shows for his accessibility (“He’s great in a green room. He remembers everybody’s name.”); former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (“He had the best time talking to staffers, telling jokes.”). The gregarious Gov. Huckabee is now being represented by CAA.

Also mentioned: Ms. Rice (“loves to talk to everybody”); Sen. Hagel and Sen. Biden (“They ask how are you, talk about ratings and remember people’s names.”); former Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

2007: Ms. Rice; Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.

HARDEST TO BUDGE OFF THEIR TALKING POINTS

Leading vote-getters: Obama supporter Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. (Clinton supporter “Ed Rendell was more forthcoming” during their weeks as dueling surrogates leading up to their state’s primary); Ms. Rice (“just goes through life with talking points”); Sen. Clinton (“You have to follow up on her; she just gives you a robotic response.”); Sen. Obama (“He’s more articulate in the way he does it.”).

Also mentioned: Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. (“If you ask him what color the sky is, he’ll tell you how fast the river is running.”); President Bush; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen; any administration official; most military guys (“God help you if the heavens open up and you get a military guy.”). “More and more people [believe] that’s the way to play the game. They come completely armed with talking points. It’s Being a TV Guest 101,” said one respondent. “You are protected if you stick to your talking points, but people stop listening. Hillary pulls it off. Condi doesn’t.”

2007: Ms. Rice

HIGHEST MAINTENANCE

Leading vote-getters: Rudolph Giuliani (“Is [wife] Judith coming or is she not coming?”); Rep. Pelosi (“won’t come to the studio,” “wants the grandeur of her Speaker’s office,” “the queen—spare me”).

Also mentioned: Mr. Nader (“bizarre,” “won’t be picked up at home”); Gov. Romney.

2007: Sen. Kerry

EASIEST TO DEAL WITH

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is “always very accommodating.”

Also mentioned:
“People who have been around for a long time,” including Sen. Biden, Rep. Charles Rangell, D-N.Y.; Sen. Dodd; Sen. Specter (“He comes on and makes his point,” “always interesting”); and Gov. Huckabee (“very low-key,” traveling often with “only a one-person entourage even as candidate”).

2007: Sen. Graham

MOST OVEREXPOSED

Leading vote-getters: The candidates (“They’re on television several times a day.”); the campaigns (“That’s all we’re doing.”); anyone from a primary state (“If you were from a hotly debated primary state, you got to be on television.”).

Also mentioned: Sen. Biden; Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; Gov. Rendell; Gov. Richardson; former DNC chairman and current Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe; Gov. Huckabee (“omigawd”).

2007: Sen. Biden

Comments (1)

Marie B:

One correction, Sen. John Edwards, while born in SC, was elected to the Senate by the good people of NORTH CAROLINA, not SC.

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