WFAA8's Brad Watson in the spotlight, with an irked President Obama fixing a steely glare on him
04/19/11 09:45 AM
Barack Obama gave a post-interview scolding to WFAA8's Brad Watson after he dared to interject during some of the president's answers. The station touted the "tense moments" between them. Photos: Ed Bark
By ED BARK
It can be a fine line between respecting the office of the presidency and being over-zealous in the interests of provoking a quotable quote.
Veteran WFAA8 reporter Brad Watson, who also anchors the station's Sunday morning Inside Texas Politics program, teetered on a high wire Monday during his heavily promoted "exclusive" interview with President Obama. The bulk of it aired on the 10 p.m. newscast after brief excerpts were shown on the 5 and 6 p.m. editions.
As Watson noted at the outset, he was given just seven minutes with Obama, who also did sit-downs Monday with three other local TV stations in Denver, Indianapolis and Raleigh. The WFAA8 interview was condensed on the 10 p.m. newscast, with most of the questions tied to Texas concerns.
"After the interview, Mr. Obama pointed out that he doesn't like an interviewer challenging his comments," Watson told viewers. WFAA8 then showed post-interview footage in which the president told the reporter, "Let me finish my answers next time we do an interview."
"All right, sir," Watson replied. "Thank you."
Co-anchor Debbie Denmon (subbing for Gloria Campos after she had an injection for back pain Monday) noted "the tense moments in between" during her top-of-the-newscast tease for Obama/Watson. Anchor John McCaa later told viewers that the interview "was not without a few tense moments."
So what were the big deals? Well, Watson came out swinging during his minimal allotted time, asking the president point-blank, "Why do you think you're so unpopular in Texas?"
Obama contended that Democrats are making progress and that his presidential campaign "lost by a few percentage points in Texas."
"Well, you lost by about 10," Watson interjected. Obama then countered, "If what you're telling me is Texas is a conservative state, you're absolutely right." (For the record, Republican John McCain beat Obama in Texas by a margin of 55.39 to 43.63 percent. So Watson was absolutely right on that score, too.)
A bigger flashpoint came when Watson noted that both Democrats and Republicans "suspect the Obama administration skipped Houston to award shuttle orbiters to states that would help in the president's re-election."
"That's wrong," Obama said.
"So was the shuttle not awarded to Houston because of politics?" Watson pressed.
"I just said that was wrong," Obama replied sharply. A commission made the decisions, he added. "We had nothing to do with it. The White House had nothing to do with it."
Watson persisted. "And you weren't personally involved in the decision?"
"I just said that wasn't true," the president said while also rebutting Watson with a steely glare.
So did the reporter go too far? And did WFAA8 likewise over-hype both the contentious nature of the face-off and the state line-crossing trip to Washington "to give you the interview no other station can?"
Well, it's a tough call. And Watson is a tough cookie. In his defense, he didn't settle for basking in the aura of a sitting president and asking puff ball questions on the order of "When are you coming to Texas again, and will you wear a cowboy hat for us?" Watson had a very limited amount of time. And Obama certainly was willing to answer questions by rote and at length in order to keep the ball in his court. It's probably not very often that he encounters a mere local reporter who has the temerity to interject in an effort to pin him down. All presidents of every political stripe end up thinking they're imperial. They're not.
On the other hand, Watson could have given it a rest on the shuttle question after Obama shot it down twice. And maybe the "unpopular in Texas" question could have been tempered a bit. Something on the order of, "One of John McCain's biggest wins in the 2008 campaign came in Texas. Regardless of who your opponent is, can you realistically expect to turn the state around in 2012"
All in all, though, Watson fared better being a bulldog than a pussycat. Presidents can't make all the rules when they agree to sit down for an interview. So Watson ended up getting lectured, and maybe won't be invited back again. But Obama probably respected his tenacity, which in the end is always better than the president ending an interview by saying, "Thanks, you did a great job for our team. We'll have to have you back again."
Here's video of the interview as it played on Monday's 10 p.m. newscast.
Former CBS11 freelance reporter Jane Slater officially changed stations and jobs Monday, making what amounted to cameo appearances on WFAA8's 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts as the new "traffic anchor."
Co-anchor John McCaa, who introduced Slater on the 6 p.m. edition, said that WFAA8 was determined to "help you out" with time-saving commuter updates. For starters, Slater's total air time on the early evening editions was roughly a minute -- less than the stop time at many traffic light-controlled intersections.
On the 6 p.m. newscast, she strove to make her brief report both down-home and relatable. "If you've got a loved one that's heading home for you (from Seagoville/Richardson to Garland/Mesquite), go ahead and put that dinner in the microwave," Slater suggested.
She spent a year-and-a-half at CBS11, regularly showing up on that station's featured 10 p.m. newscasts. That's apparently not in the cards right now at WFAA8. Asked whether Slater will be a full-time staffer or do anything other than traffic updates, news director Michael Valentine said in an email response Tuesday that "Jane will doing traffic part-time on our 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts."
It should be noted that Monday's early evening newscasts were dominated by coverage of the rampaging wildfires in the Possum Kingdom Lake area. That may have reduced Slater's air time. It also positioned WFAA8 as the place to go for the best live shots and on-the-scene reporting of this wind-aided menace.
WFAA8 also excelled at 10 p.m. Monday, with vivid live reporting from Jim Douglas and Casey Norton, plus Gary Reaves' exclusive taped dispatch on the progress of a seriously burned and still hospitalized firefighter.