Thursday, June 25, 2009

Emanuel's Mastery Of Reading Reporters

For Chuck Todd, getting calls from Rahm Emanuel is a staple of covering the White House. But they dwell as much on what the NBC correspondent knows as what he can get the president's top aide to divulge.

For New York Times columnist David Brooks, it's an Emanuel invitation for a White House chat at which President Obama happens to drop by.

For Washington Post reporter Michael Shear, it's three calls to his car in a matter of minutes as he shushes his kids on the way to a Virginia restaurant.

"A conversation with Rahm can be as little as 30 seconds," says CNN commentator Paul Begala, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House. "He calls, drops a few F-bombs, makes his point and hangs up."

President Obama told a joke to the effect that Rahm didn't realize that Day could follow the word Mother.

"He thinks like a journalist," says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, who marvels at his colleague making multiple calls and wolfing down lunch at the same time.

As chief of staff to the elder President Bush, James Baker was also masterful at working his media contacts, but usually from behind a curtain of anonymity. Many other predecessors, such as Andy Card, Mack McLarty and John Sununu, were less accessible to journalists.

Along with Axelrod, a onetime Chicago Tribune reporter, Emanuel has become a more prominent voice in print stories than press secretary Robert Gibbs, who focuses much of his energy on the daily briefing and whose on-the-record comments tend to be cautious. White House officials see Emanuel as an independent media center but are careful to coordinate strategy with him.

None of this would be remarkable, except for the fact that Emanuel serves as the fulcrum of a frenetic West Wing, controlling access to the president, helping to shape the daily message and constantly lobbying his former colleagues on the Hill. Yet he somehow finds time to stay in constant touch with a sizable group of journalists, both on the phone and through a series of off-the-record restaurant dinners. Emanuel has also hosted off-the-record gatherings of columnists and Sunday show hosts in his White House office, or on his outdoor portico.

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