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Obama’s Life In The Boundless Media Spotlight

By Mark Knoller, CBS News / Political Hotsheet

Jun 20, 2009

It seems to some people, even ardent supporters, that President Obama is getting way too much media coverage.

“You don’t have to be on television every minute of every day,” implored comedian/commentator Bill Maher on his HBO show last week. “You’re the President, not a re-run of “Law & Order.”

It may not seem like it, but there actually are days when Mr. Obama makes no public appearances, but they’re few and far between.

A check of my daily log of presidential activity shows that since taking office, there have been only 7 days on which Mr. Obama did not have a media appearance of some kind. All but one of those seven days were Sundays.

The one exception was last Wednesday. The president stayed cloistered behind the well-guarded doors of the Oval Office.

Though he usually keeps a low-profile on Saturdays, his weekly radio address now puts him on the media scoreboard, because he also delivers it on-camera and posts it on the White House Web site.

Despite the burdens of his office, Mr. Obama repeatedly demonstrates his enthusiasm for making public appearances.

By my count, he has made 173 speeches since taking office. By that, I mean formal statements, usually before an audience, at a lectern, and far more often than not, with a Teleprompter. He has also held 23 news conferences or press availabilities. Three of those were formal, prime time sessions in the East Room; the others were joint q-&-a sessions with foreign leaders, either at the White House or abroad.

No question that’s a lot, but you might be surprised to learn that his speech count in his first 150 days in office was topped by his immediate predecessor. My records show that President George W. Bush delivered 180 speeches in that same time period, not counting brief, less formal remarks during photo ops. He held the same number of formal, solo White House news conferences, 3, though none of them in prime time, plus seven more joint sessions with foreign leaders for a total of ten.

There’s no denying the heightened excitement level generated by Barack Obama’s election and inauguration. That was clearly reflected in expanded media coverage of his first months in office.

Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report meticulously monitors and logs the weekday evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC, found that 100 more stories about Mr. Obama were aired this year between Jan 20 and May 31, than were about Mr. Bush during that same period in 2001. It was 527 stories on Mr. Obama, 427 on Mr. Bush.

“Every time I turn on the TV, there’s Obama,” said Maher, pointing to stories about the First Family puppy, the outings for cheeseburgers, the appearance on “The Tonight Show” and the date nights in New York and Paris.

Kevin Sullivan, who served as White House Communications Director under Mr. Bush, sees it the same way.

“President Obama has gotten an enormous amount of coverage ‘off the field,’” says Sullivan, citing some of Maher’s examples, but also ESPN’s coverage of the president’s NCAA brackets, the haircut video Mr. Obama did for “The Colbert Report,” and the recent fly-swatting incident on CNBC.

Sullivan also says Mr. Obama is “amping up” Mr. Bush’s use of the new media, including the widespread use of the social networks. The White House Web site also invites visitors to check out White House appearances on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, Vimeo and iTunes.

Mr. Obama has also been inundated by requests for interviews. He’s done at least 51 (according to the White House).

Here are some other numbers from our CBS News tallies that contribute to Mr. Obama’s expanded media presence.

Domestic Trips: 19 States Visited: 16 (six of them more than once) Foreign Trips: 4 Countries Visited: 11 (two of them twice, France and Germany) Bill Signings: 22 Visits to the U.S. Capitol: 8 Golf Outings: 6 Other sports-related Events: 13 (excluding golf) Political fundraisers: 7 (plus another tonight) Meetings with foreign leaders: 47 (at the White House and abroad) Flights on Air Force One: 59 Flights on Marine One: 80 Nights Out (theater, events, dinner): 13 (including Paris)

It all adds up to a president with a sky-high media profile that shows no hint of descending, despite the risk and political dangers of over-exposure.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:

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