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White House Opens Its Doors to Radio Talk Show Hosts - 2002-10-31

The Bush administration is sending its message out to people across the United States via talk radio. American radio hosts were invited to the north lawn of the White House Wednesday to broadcast their programs live and ask questions of senior administration officials.

The cold and the rain did not stop Shannon Burke, from WFLA in Florida, from coming to Washington to broadcast a live interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"It's 9:31, at 540 WFLA . I'm Shannon Burke, live at the White House. The front steps, actually, in a kind of leaky tent. Joining us we have spotted a couple of leaks, but we're not going to bring that to your attention. Joining us now is Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Secretary, thank you."

In between brief stops with various radio talk show hosts, Mr. Rumsfeld said he believes it is important to talk to them because they have millions of listeners around the United States. "These people have a reach that covers the country and are important American citizens who care about these issues," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And so all of us recognize our responsibilities as government officials to communicate with the people, just as we do communicate with the people of the world."

The nearly 40 radio hosts at Wednesday's event included shows that were nationally-syndicated, as well as smaller market programs like Arklahoma AM, hosted by Daren Bobb, from Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Mr. Bobb says his short interview with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill touched on unexpected issues that listeners back in Arkansas would find interesting. "Oddly enough, next year, he was telling me they're going to have these colored dollar bills come out, these 20-dollar bills with red and blue on it," he said. "And that was kind of a unique question, or item, to talk about with him."

Mr. Bobb says he had no qualms about coming to Washington. "How often do you get a call from the White House to broadcast from the front lawn? We took advantage of it and we're here. So, we're having a ball so far," said Daren Bobb.

Another radio personality, Mike Gallagher, says coming to Washington was a simple decision for him to make. "They called us. You know, when the White House calls, you come," he said.

Mr. Gallagher is based in Dallas, Texas. His conservative talk show is syndicated to more than 175 radio stations across the country. He said most of the radio hosts participating in Wednesday's event support the Bush administration. "I think clearly, they don't want unfriendly voices, and I think most of the national hosts are conservative," said Mike Gallagher.

Of the few hosts who do not agree with President Bush, radio personality Ellen Ratner, of Talk Radio news service, says she feels one problem for her is a lack of support for liberal causes in the United States. "Nobody supports me," she said. "Nobody supports the liberal viewpoint. We're the lone rangers. But we'll keep there."

Ms. Ratner specifically said she feels the White House is not talking enough about economic issues. "I think this administration could be talking much more about the economy, and we're not hearing much about the economy," said Ellen Ratner.

Critics have charged that the Bush administration is using domestic radio as just another means to influence voters before next week's elections. The director of radio in the White House's office of media affairs, Taylor Gross, says the timing of the event has nothing to do with the upcoming polls. "This is something we've been wanting to do for a long, long time," said Taylor Gross. "The stars kind of lined up right for us. Congress is out of session. We wanted to do it at a time when members of the Cabinet and other senior staff are not so consumed with legislation that's moving through Congress."

This is the second time the White House has opened its doors to American radio hosts. The first time was in 1993, during the Clinton administration.