OTR Interviews

President Obama: Manipulator-in-Chief

President has no problem granting media access for photo-ops with first responders when he wants to blame Republicans for looming sequestration cuts


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Yesterday, President Obama must have gotten bored on Air Force One coming home from his golf trip because he did wander back to the press section of the plane, but he would only talk to the press if it were off the record.

We don't know what he was hiding, what he did he did not want on the record, but today, he seemed more than happy to go on the record, the president appearing at a carefully staged media event with first responders. They were all lined up behind him, President Obama lashing out at Republicans, warning their unwillingness to raise taxes will put jobs on the line.

The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes joins us. Nice to see you, Steve. And even a Politico editorial today says President Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating the media coverage of himself and his White House. Where is the media?

STEPHEN HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he sure is. I mean, I don't necessarily even blame President Obama. He gets away with what the media let him get away with, and they let him get away with a lot. I mean, the problem -- I think the fundamental problem is you don't have the same kind of scrutiny on the president that you've had on past presidents, both Republican and Democratic. So he gets away with not disclosing as much as he should on Benghazi, for instance.

He gets away with, as you pointed out, calling for tax hikes right now. Well, there's video of the president back in January of 2011 saying that tax hikes during time of slow economic growth would send the country back into recession. Why hasn't he -- why isn't that on the front page of The New York Times, asking why the president was making one argument then, when we had 5.6 percent growth, and the opposite argument today?

You can say the same thing with the sequester. He used to threaten to veto it. Now he's saying it can't possibly go through. I mean, there are so many contradictions and yet he's not called on any of this on the network newscasts, in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the other major outlets in the mainstream media. He's just not called on these things.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what I think is the most pathetic thing about the last couple days on this? It's that the White House press corps, which sort of has an image of itself as sort of being tough and yelling out the tough questions -- is the fact that after they spent a weekend of moaning about the fact that they didn't have access to the president, the president comes to the back to the plane, and they agreed to an off-the-record discussion!

Now, what in the world is the off-the-record discussion going to do for anybody, give them a little chit-chat face time with the president so they can have a good time on the trip? You know, they're paid by news organizations to get information. They should have said, No, on the record or we don't want to talk to the president! What was the point of talking to the president, then?

HAYES: Well, it's interesting because I remember traveling -- I did a lot of traveling for a book that I wrote about Dick Cheney. I remember traveling on Air Force Two overseas, and there were these kinds of disputes all the time. And I remember one in particular where the wire reporter on the trip was from the AP. There were other -- and I think there was a reporter from Reuters, New York Times, some other major outlets. And Cheney invited the group, including me, back to do an off-the-record session with him.

I was happy with that. I was a magazine reporter. I didn't have a deadline. I thought it would add sort of context to what we were seeing on this trip. And there was a full-on protest, revolt from the daily reporters and the wire reporters, who said, We don't want to see the vice president off the record. That doesn't do us any good. We need to file stories, and we didn't travel all the way over here just to have off -- the-record conversations with the vice president.

Now, they had gone to other staged-managed events that had some opportunity to talk to his assistants. But they didn't have time with the vice president, and they said, basically, We're not doing it unless there's some on the record sessions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, how do you think that this White House press corps that sat in the back of the plane and agreed to an off-the-record with the president coming back from Florida -- how do you think they justify it in their minds?

HAYES: I think what they say is it's valuable to spend time with the president, no matter when you spend time with the president. He might provide some insight into the coming battle over the sequester. And I'm not actually...

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you buy that?

HAYES: I do buy that. I do...

VAN SUSTEREN: See, I don't...


HAYES: I don't mind off-the-record sessions.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's such a failure on their part because after complaining about not having access to the president, it looks like they were weak and that they were sort of seduced by the president...

HAYES: Happy to have -- yes...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... because their job -- their job is to get us information, meaning the news organizations, the other news organizations, and the American people information! And instead, they got the pat on the head like the puppy in the back of the plane!

HAYES: I get that argument. I guess for me, anytime you're spending time with the president, it's valuable time as a reporter. If he's talking about how frustrated...

VAN SUSTEREN: For themselves!

HAYES: ... he is with -- yes, but...

VAN SUSTEREN: For themselves...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... the pool!

HAYES: But it can also inform their report -- he may say something about a conversation that he had over the weekend with somebody that will let them make three more phone calls and get additional information that will inform their reporting.

VAN SUSTEREN: For themselves! For themselves!

HAYES: But it will inform their reporting.

VAN SUSTEREN: They were the pool. They were the pool.

HAYES: But it'll inform their reporting. Yes, I agree it's a little bit...

VAN SUSTEREN: They were the pool!


VAN SUSTEREN: This is the pool!


VAN SUSTEREN: This is the pool!

HAYES: But I -- but as a general rule, I don't have a problem with off-the-record sessions. What I have a problem with is not pressing the president on the record, I mean, not pressing him for more on-the-record conversations or discussions or...

VAN SUSTEREN: But he -- the president says -- he said in a Google Hangout -- this again in Politico on last Thursday said this is the most transparent administration in history!

HAYES: Well, that's preposterous. Nobody takes that seriously.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, apparently...

HAYES: I don't know anybody...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the rest of the media does! The media is not pressing him on that!

HAYES: I don't know anybody who doesn't work for the president who believes that that's actually the case. And I know there's -- there's a lot of frustration in the White House press corps. What we haven't seen is this kind of uprising or this kind of outcry about it.

Now, I hope they keep this up. I mean, it's one thing to do it because they didn't get...


HAYES: ... a picture on a golf course. I would like them to do it on Benghazi, on some of these other issues...

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- but they already caved in the back of the...

HAYES: ... making (INAUDIBLE) these questions.

VAN SUSTEREN: What makes (INAUDIBLE) is that they caved caved in the back of Air Force One after complaining that -- after finally speaking up -- they're finally speaking up -- they don't get the picture with Tiger Woods -- and I don't care if we have a picture of Tiger Woods or not. We can all imagine what the president looks like playing golf with Tiger Woods...

HAYES: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and we all know what both of them look like. But even after they got the courage to protest that, that they didn't have access, they then get weak and the fall apart on the back of the plane!

HAYES: But they -- look, I mean, I think part of the problem is they don't want to -- they're so worried about the very limited access that they get that some of them don't want to ask the hard questions when they do get access because they're worried that they'll be punished...


HAYES: ... and sent to the gulag.

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me go back to that. They work for the pool and they're not doing their jobs!

HAYES: Yes. Well, I think they need to ask more questions and demand more time with the president on the record. He hasn't done -- there was an article today that said that he hasn't done an interview -- on-the-record interview with The Washington Post since 2009, the New York Times since 2010.

Now, I don't think that he's getting very difficult questions that often from those outlets, or they're certainly -- it's not reflected in their coverage, but they should be demanding that he spend more time with them. And I think if they were -- if they were covering him tougher on a daily basis, he would want to reach out to them to explain himself more often.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, as always, thank you.

HAYES: Thanks, Greta.