How Robin Roberts Landed The Obama Interview

May 9, 2012 2:58 p.m.

The White House called ABC News on Tuesday to ask about Robin Roberts’ schedule. The Good Morning America co-host works a pre-dawn to midday schedule during the week as part of the usual network morning show routine. But the White House wanted something far from routine: a sitdown interview between her and the President the next day. The questions would be of her choosing, but everyone knew the focus would be same-sex marriage.

“It doesn’t take a huge leap to figure it out,” a source at ABC told TPM.

After Vice President Joe Biden came out for gay marriage on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan followed suit on Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was grilled during Tuesday’s press briefing on whether President Obama’s own position on the issue had changed.Roberts, a 51-year-old former sports reporter who came to ABC from sister network ESPN in 1995, was a natural choice by the White House. She had already interviewed Obama a handful of times, including his first interview after his 2009 inauguration.

“Robin is a very thoughtful interviewer, whose style is perhaps more conversational than confrontational, but she sure makes a lot of news with that approach,” said Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of communications at ABC News, in a phone interview with TPM. Schneider added that Roberts’ “direct but fair” interviews with Obama helped her land this scoop.

Roberts arrival Wednesday afternoon at the White House for the 1:30 p.m. ET taping was dutifully tweeted by the White House press corps, which had gotten wind that the interview would be news breaking but still did not know what the President would say. Joining Roberts in the Cabinet Room with the President were Good Morning America senior executive producer Tom Cibrowski, senior producer Virginia Moseley, senior Washington editor Rick Klein, and a researcher.

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” the President told Roberts in the clinching moment of the interview, completing his long and controversial “evolution” on the issue.

A big challenge for ABC was preventing the substance of the interview from leaking so that it could preserve its exclusive. In the 24/7 news multiverse, it is rare for a broadcast network to hold all the cards on a story any more, and ABC was determined to keep them close to the vest. No one at ABC was explicitly told not to tweet about the interview, but they were “reminded that not until something is out can we tweet about it,” the network source said.

Once the interview was over, the race was on. Klein worked on writing up the essence of the interview for the web, and the key video excerpt was rushed through production. The network wanted to make sure the story broke in the right way — online and on-air simultaneously. ABC interrupted regular afternoon programming with a special report at 3 p.m. ET. just as Klein’s piece was published on and on Yahoo, which has partnered with ABC to cover the 2012 campaign.

ABC is milking its exclusive for all its worth, with portions of the interview set to air Wednesday night on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, and the full interview planned for Good Morning America Thursday at 7 a.m. ET.

Watch Obama’s interview with Roberts:


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