Tale of Two Testy Interviews

Obama, Trump push back against aggressive questioners.

04.19.11 1:07 PM ET

There’s a rhythm to these Donald Trump interviews by now.

Since he’s made the birther conspiracy a centerpiece of his campaign, each anchor feels compelled to challenge him, and that’s generally the first or second thing that airs. Trump pushes back hard and complains that President Obama’s birth certificate is not his main issue, even as he keeps pounding away at it.

Take the George Stephanopoulos sitdown for Good Morning America. When the ABC anchor asks why he keeps raising the matter, Trump insists there are questions about Obama’s place of birth. “There is no question,” Stephanopoulos declares. He is just describing “the facts.”

“George, they’ve coopted you,” Trump says.

“Who’s they?”

“Obviously Obama and his minions,” The Donald insists. A moment later he adds: “And by the way, this is not a big focus of my campaign.”

Stephanopoulos pressed on: What have Trump’s investigators in Hawaii found?

“It’s none of your business right now.”

The “cooption” charge was an unfair shot; maybe Trump believed it would sting because Stephanopoulos worked in the Clinton White House. But Stephanopoulos was simply saying what just about every journalist, independent analyst and even some Republicans have said: There is ample evidence that the president was born in Hawaii in 1961. Trump had a similar exchange with Savannah Guthrie on the Today show.

In a sense, both parties get what they want. The anchors land the guy who the media have turned into the hottest presidential aspirant right now, presumably yielding a bump in the ratings, and the New York developer gets the kind of exposure that has enabled him to utterly overshadow his potential GOP rivals.

The public, meanwhile, keeps hearing the birther conspiracy talk as if it’s a legitimate debate.

Meanawhile, there are headlines about Obama getting “testy” with reporter Brad Watson of WFAA in Dallas. This is one of a number of local TV interviews the White House has been granting, a favorite tactic because they are short (usually 5 minutes) and get huge play in markets where it’s a big deal for one of the locals to be admitted to the Oval Office.

Watson pressed Obama on his unpopularity in Texas, correcting the president when he said he had lost the 2008 election there by just a few percentage points. “If what you’re telling me is Texas is a conservative state, you’re absolutely right,” Obama says. The reporter also asked about local suspicions that the administration skipped Houston in awarding shuttle orbiters to swing states that would be more helpful politically. Obama flatly denied that the White House had any role in the contracts.

Watson was professional and respectful, and his interruptions were subtle. So it was surprising that the president, while unclipping his mike, said: “Let me finish my answers the next time we do an interview, all right?”

It wasn’t exactly Trump-like combat, but Obama seemed as annoyed as if he’d been asked whether he had really born in Kenya. And that brief display of pique drew attention to what otherwise would have been a routine local interview.