President Obama was taken by surprise when a local TV journalist from Missouri asked him an unusually tough question during a question-and-answer session. It was part of a brief interview that White House officials thought would be an easy way for the president to get his economic message across to an important swing state.
Instead, the interview turned into a sharp exchange.
The wider lesson is that, while some White House correspondents consider local reporters hopelessly parochial and eager to curry favor, local interviewers can be tough.
The latest example came when Larry Conners of KMOV-TV in St. Louis asked Obama if his extensive travel on Air Force One and his family vacations during economic hard times have left him out of touch.
Obama said flying on Air Force One is a security measure and he added: "The fact of the matter is I think if you look at my track record, I'm raising a family here. When we travel, we got to travel through Secret Service—and Air Force One, that's not my choice. I think most folks understand how hard I work and how hard this administration is working on behalf of the American people."
Conners told Obama that some KMOV viewers "are complaining, they get frustrated, even angered," when they see the president and his family traveling around the world, and people feel that Obama is losing touch.
This prompted Obama to respond, "Well, I don't know how many viewers you're talking about that say that."
Conners replied, "We do hear from some."
Obama said, "I hear from all kinds of viewers about everything."
Conners said, "I'm sure you do."
After the interview, Conners did a standup report from the White House and said Obama "sidestepped that question. No one is questioning his need to travel on Air Force One or have security. The questions being raised are, the first family taking so many vacations, when and where, at taxpayer expense."