D.C. Talkers: Hardest to Get

Feb 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Leading vote-getters: Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. The gruff Mr. Cheney, whose press policy does not seem dictated by the White House, was regarded as “very difficult” to book back when he was known for spending time in undisclosed locations. Now that he’s known for an accident that’s a gun-control advocate’s and late-night joke writer’s dream and that turned into a public relations nightmare, he’s even more likely to be unavailable. He sat down exclusively with Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume after several days of increasingly testy exchanges between the White House press corps and White House spokesman Scott McClellan. The Hume interview, said one newsmaker show executive producer, may well be “the end of Cheney television.” “It’s clear his behavior is a metaphor for the way he approaches his government life. He’s gotten more and more reclusive.”

Those who are most aware of Sen. Clinton’s press posture since the former first lady was elected to the Senate are inclined to say things such as: “She’s not even on my radar screen.” “She just doesn’t do stuff.” “She’s really hard to get.” “She does the dance.” On the other hand, one contrarian says it makes sense for Sen. Clinton to be especially low-key now, when she’s as polarizing as she can be and she still is seen as the best and the brightest presidential candidate the Democrats have right now. “Anything she can and does say can and will be used against her for the next three years.”

Also mentioned: President Bush; his political adviser Karl Rove (“Doesn’t do squat,” “That was true even before the [CIA leak] hot water”); Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (“He’s been kind of scarce”); anyone in the Bush administration (“They’ve all been sort of scarce”); anyone politically related to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff (“They seem to be running for the hills”); and Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost the 2004 presidential race.

2005 Hardest to Get: President Bush

Easiest to Get

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The senior senator from New York is drawn like a moth to the red light on a TV camera, inspiring enduring jokes about how the most dangerous place to be in Washington-not to mention his home state of New York, where he has been known for holding press conferences on slow-news Sundays-is between him and any camera. In his defense, he represents one of the most populous states in the country, holds key committee positions and carries water for the Democratic Party while still seeming to “speak the truth” to some in newsmaker-show circles. On the other hand, his ubiquity is “almost a joke. He’s baaaaaack.”

Also mentioned: Perennial favorite Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (“He’s a rock star who also can say ‘No,'” “He’s very fair to all the shows”); Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. (“He’s articulate”); Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (“He’s always good”); and gadfly activists and former presidential candidates Jesse Jackson (“He calls and says, ‘I’m available,’ and you say, ‘What?'”) and Al Sharpton (“He doesn’t have a day job”); and “practically any House member.”

This category did not appear in 2005.

Most Overexposed

Leading vote-getters: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. While Sen. Biden has earned a bit of “a reputation for hogging airtime,” he and Sen. McCain enjoy more good will than Sen. Schumer does in the realm

of the pundits. “Biden and McCain may be overexposed, but it’s because they’re good. They’re ballsy. Whenever they’re on, we rate good.” Mr. Schumer’s name elicits choruses of “Oh no’s.”

Also mentioned: Presidential hopeful Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

(“He seems to be trying to redo his strategy,” “He was just everywhere. Suddenly, he just stopped appearing so often, or maybe we just asked him too often,” “He can’t decide who he wants to be”); and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. (“He goes to more Sunday shows than some girls go to proms”).

2005 Most Overexposed: Sen. Biden

Most Likely to Make News

Leading vote-getters: Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. (“He marches to his own drummer, which is rare around here”); and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (“One of the reasons we love to book him is that he’s very honest about the issues”). Sen. Specter’s profile has been helped by his heroic battle against cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy (“Nobody was going to take his place at the [Washington] table”) and his growing inclination to “bug the administration.” “He has become so independent that he has become unpredictable.”

Also mentioned: President Bush (“or any sitting president”); Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. (“Lately she has inadvertently made news” by saying in a Harlem church that the Senate is run like a plantation and by suffering in comparison to her husband’s performance at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. “She doesn’t have his natural ability.”); anyone talking about bird flu (People “may say they’re worried about oil prices, but they’re really worried about bird flu”).

2005 Most Likely to Make News: Condoleezza Rice

Least Likely to Make News

Leading vote-getter: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As President Bush’s national security adviser, she cut a tough- and straight-talking figure. Her frequent presence on newsmaker shows helped narrow the gender gap that reflects the seniority system in Washington. However, “She’s gotten very cautious with the new job. She also has gotten into Foggy Bottom diplo-speak.” She is increasingly seen as a poster person for the increasingly inaccessible Bush administration (“They just don’t ever go off-message. It’s stunning how like automatons they are.” “She sticks to the points that are what you’d hear at a press conference.”)

Also mentioned: Anyone in the Bush administration; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio (“He has really overestimated his own bulls***,” “He’s just into domestic policy”); Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. (“As boring as the day is long”); Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas (“Remember him?”).

2005 Least Likely to Make News: Many also-rans but no top vote-getter.

On the Rise

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Nearly as soon as the freshman senator and Sen. John McCain exchanged words about whether Sen. Obama was backtracking on lobbying reform, they hugged and appeared to make up their minds to work together. And he won a Grammy this year for his recording of his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” in the spoken-word category that included nominees Garrison Keillor, Al Franken, Sean Penn and George Carlin. The minority opinion is that “he’s been a bit of a disappointment” in his second year on the Hill. But the majority maintains that “Obama is very good on television.” “He has just got a lot of potential.”

Also mentioned: Likely 2008 presidential campaign factors Democratic former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. George Allen, R-Va.; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine (“She has done an amazing job” as chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “She has come into her own”); Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; and Sen. David Vitter, R-La. (“Who knew Louisiana had another senator? Hurricane Katrina made him”).

This category did not appear in 2005.

Sen. John McCain on the Screen: Thumbs Up Or Thumbs Down?

Leading opinion: Sen. McCain’s crossover appearances on the big and small screens, which started in 2002 when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” and which in the past year have included “Wedding Crashers,” “24” and late-night talk shows, get a hearty thumbs up from most members of newsmaker-show circles. “He does things because he thinks they’ll be fun. I don’t hold any of that against him.” “He hasn’t fallen on his face
.” “It works to his advantage.” “Why not? There’s always been a mixture of Hollywood in politics.” “People like that.” “He’s having a good time.”

Second opinion: “He shouldn’t give up his day job.” “He defines the word ‘ubiquitous.’ He’s going to have to get a SAG card pretty soon.” n

Over the Hill

Leading vote-getter: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. (“He’s just got a tin ear.” “He’s afflicted with presidential candidate-itis.” “He realizes he screwed up his own presidential ambitions.”)

Also mentioned: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. (“Nobody cares about Hastert”); Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. (Nearly 90-something and “he’s running again”); Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (“Enough already.” “Dean’s a nonfactor.”); Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. (“He just doesn’t get it.”)

This category did not appear in 2005.

Oddest Media Couple

Leading vote-getters: Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sen. Clinton and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (“They still seem to get along fine”); Sen. Clinton and “almost any Republican”; Sen. Clinton and “almost every conservative.”

Also mentioned: Former President Clinton and Sen. Clinton; and former President Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush, roving statesmen in times of natural disaster. The latter “do what former presidents, except Jimmy Carter, do. They feel each other’s pain.”

2005 Oddest Media Couple: Former Presidents Bush and Clinton

Too Eager

Leading vote-getter: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. (“His staff monitors all the shows.”)

Also mentioned: In a tie for second are former White House aide Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. (“It was fine when he [spun] for President Clinton. Now he’s doing it for himself”), Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and found her peace activism played well during a slow summer press stakeout during President Bush’s vacation in Texas. (“The world was listening and heard her grief,” said one politically astute TV veteran who still marvels at the ability of television to “somehow validate [individuals’] grief as monumental”).

This category did not appear in 2005.

Highest Maintenance

Leading vote-getters: Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; aides to Sen. Clinton. The rising star power-especially in Democratic presidential daydreams-of the junior senator from New York has ratcheted up the degree of difficulty in booking her. She has, from the beginning of her Senate service, been as reluctant a newsmaker guest as colleague Chuck Schumer has been eager, carefully choosing the questions she will submit to. “She’s very demanding.” “It is very difficult to get through the wall of advisers.” And as a well-protected former first lady, “She brings a certain amount of baggage.”

Also mentioned: Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. (“He comes in as late as possible. He has his coterie around him. He doesn’t speak to anyone around him. He’s more a jerk than high maintenance”); and Bush Cabinet members (“Why must we hold the elevators for them?”).

2005 Highest Maintenance: A tie between Sen. Kerry and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Most-Watched Editions of Newsmaker Programs

(2005-06 season to date)

“Meet the Press,” NBC

Viewers: 4.78 million

Edition: National Security Administration domestic surveillance, Feb. 12, 2006

“Face the Nation,” CBS

Viewers: 3.62 million

Edition: Hurricane Rita, Sept. 25, 2005

“This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” ABC

Viewers: 2.98 million

Edition: Alito Supreme Court nomination and Iraq, Nov. 6, 2005

“Fox News Sunday,” Fox

Viewers: 1.62 million

Edition: Hurricane Rita, Sept. 25, 2005

“Late Edition,” CNN

Viewers: 1.34 million

Edition: Hurricane Rita, Sept. 25, 2005

Source: Nielsen Media Research