An interview with the U.S. President in the hours before the Super Bowl has become a tradition in recent decades. Now that custom seems to be in danger of dying out.
President Joe Biden will not take part in an exchange during the pre-game festivities leading up to CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LVIII on February 11, CBS News confirmed. The Paramount Global news operation had been in discussions with the White House in recent weeks. Details about which correspondent might have been eyed for the assignment could not be learned, but the CBS News offer was believed to have been for a 15-minute interview, three or four minutes of which would have aired during the network’s pre-game coverage.
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This will mark the second year in a row that President Biden has turned down the opportunity, which typically draws an audience of tens of millions, even in the hours before kickoff. President Biden also declined to speak to a news correspondent from Fox News Channel last year. Announcements about a Super Bowl interview with the president are usually finalized five or more days ahead of the event.
“We hope viewers enjoy watching what they tuned in for — the game,” said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman.
But the decision may be seen as an intriguing one, particularly as candidates ramp up for the 2024 presidential election. Viewers might have been interested in hearing President Biden talk about recent U.S. strikes on Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq in response to the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan; his views on the Republican candidates, including former President Donald Trump; or even whether he hoped for a win by the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Francisco 49ers.
The White House’s decision to not make President Biden available in 2023 was thought to reflect a strained relationship with right-leaning Fox News. But President Biden, who has not granted many press interviews since taking over the Oval Office in 2021, has seemed to enjoy good terms with CBS News. He has spoken with both Norah O’Donnell and Scott Pelley, and recently granted brief exchanges to Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe.
A pre-game Super Bowl interview with the president had become a de rigueur element of the Super Bowl broadcast conditions since President Barack Obama started doing it in 2009. President Obama did live interviews with everyone from CBS’ Pelley and Gayle King to NBC’s Matt Lauer to Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. The original Super Bowl talk with a sitting U.S. president was decidedly less formal. President George W. Bush, for example, took part in a Super Bowl coin toss in 2002 and bantered with Jim Nantz of CBS Sports before the network’s 2004 broadcast of the event.
Other Commanders-in-Chief have demurred. President Trump in 2018 opted to forgo a sit down with NBC News and anchor Lester Holt. At the time, people familiar with discussions between NBC News and the White House believed President Trump wanted to avoid a conversation about criticism he had made of NFL players who had knelt during the playing of the National Anthem to protest social injustice in the United States.
The Super Bowl “get” has been a coveted one. The interview can generate headlines for several days, and play out on networks’ nightly news and morning programs. It can also be a difficult conversation to maneuver through, especially if it is broadcast live. Savannah Guthrie’s pre-game talk with Obama in 2015 was “really tricky,” she told Variety in the following year. “You have to remember, this is an interview that takes place in the Super Bowl pre-show. The last thing everyone is thinking about or wanting to talk about is politics.” The assignment, she said, “is striking the right balance, having the right tone for the context of the day, but you want to do an interview that is helpful, asks some important questions.”
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