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Susan Boyle trumps Barack Obama on network TV [Updated]

July 22, 2009 |  8:33 am

You know the president's political clout is declining when the networks balk at showing a prime-time news conference on a hot-button issue like healthcare.

The Fox network has said no outright, directing viewers interested in what President Obama has to say to Fox News Channel, while Fox goes with "So You Think You Can Dance."

And NBC initially balked when the White House announced that the news conference would be at 9 p.m., because it had put a lot of promotion behind a special episode of "America's Got Talent" featuring an interview with that surprise British singing star, Susan Boyle. Boyle, who tells NBC that her sudden fame felt like "a demolition ball," became an international sensation when her stunning performance on Britain's version of the program reached the world via the Internet.

So Obama, in what New York magazine called "a stare-down with an ephemeral reality-show star," actually bowed to network priorities and the White House rescheduled the thing for 8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. PDT). [Updated at 9:14 a.m.: As one White House official told The Times' White House correspondent Peter Nicholas, the switch was made to "make it more likely that everyone would air it -- networks and cable."]

Not as convenient for West Coast viewers who might be, just a guess, caught in traffic at that hour. But hey, you can't have a televised presidential news conference without television.

True, presidential news conferences are hardly good lead-ins to boost ratings. Also true, as Time magazine pointed out, networks give up millions in advertising dollars to carry prime-time news conferences commercial-free.

Even more telling, the network reaction gives some hint of how Obama's star has dimmed as a magnetic television presence in the six months since he's been in office. Or maybe it just suggests that in the future, presidential news conferences will be carried live only by cable news networks that thrive on political fodder, leaving the networks to make money with reality TV shows.

But the thing of it is, what would Walter Chronkite say?

-- Johanna Neuman

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