Obama on Fox: The Interrupt-a-thon

Since becoming president, Obama has done his fair share of interviews with the big TV news anchors, including sit-downs with Charlie Gibson, Brian Williams, and Katie Couric. It's part of my job to watch them and, let's be honest, they're usually a bit of a yawn. (No offense, Brian Williams, but you're way more entertaining on The Daily Show or Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me!, where I finally learned of your aptly titled music blog, BriTunes.) The questions are fairly uncontroversial. The anchor balances serious facial expressions and vocal tones with unrestrained politeness. Comity reigns. Tonight, Fox's Bret Baier junked most of those conventions. (Although he stuck with serious voice and face.)

But first off, the news from the interview. Obama refused to be drawn out on the "deem and pass" strategy, though he implicitly argued that the procedure would still constitute an up or down vote on reform, which is what he'd been asking for. He stressed that people shouldn't get sidetracked by procedure at this late stage of the debate. A White House official told Mark Knoller of CBS tonight that part of the motivation of the president's appearance on Fox was a belief that many undecided House Democrats and their constituents watch it. Evidently Obama was trying to make a closing pitch for his plan, emphasizing again the benefits of reform for the sick and underinsured. But Baier didn't let the president have his way.

Baier focused his questions on process, hardly a surprise given that's what the public debate is largely over right now. Obama did his best to circumvent and focus on policy—which, after all, is the point of the bill. That dynamic wasn't unexpected. What was unusual—and at times downright jarring—was Baier's repeated interruptions. He tried time and again to pin the president down, but Obama was having none of it. "I…

I can imagine the interview was frustrating for both parties. Obama has a tendency to be long-winded, especially when talking about health care. But anyone who has tried to talk seriously about the subject knows that is nigh impossible to do so in the space of a soundbite without being inaccurate. (Just ask my editors, who no doubt tired long ago of my monologues about pooling and selling insurance across state lines.) Baier refused to indulge Obama's verbosity. Most reporters would similarly push for answers in a combative interview with somebody a bit less important. But they'd normally do it over policy stances, actions, or statements, not over their views on a procedural tactic that both parties use. It was certainly out of the ordinary for a presidential interview, and after a while, watching him badger Obama over process questions became irritating.

The president also seemed a little exasperated, asking Baier three times to let him finish his answers, and once accusing him of interrupting. Still, it's good viewing. 

But hey, don't take my word for it. As Fox News likes to say, you decide: