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Whom does Obama read? Ezra Klein, Taylor Branch, Bill Simmons.

President Obama escapes his White House bubble by reading widely on the web, sometimes late at night, following links like the rest of us, says senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

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President Obama waves as he walks to board the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, Wednesday. Like many Americans catching up on the news, Obama's on his iPad, grazing around the web, sometimes into the wee hours, following links, finding interesting blogs and longer-form pieces that go beyond 'the issues of the moment,' says senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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President Obama doesn’t wait for a stack of clips to show up on his desk before he starts catching up on the news. Like many Americans, he’s on his iPad, grazing around the web, sometimes into the wee hours, following links, finding interesting blogs and longer-form pieces that go beyond “the issues of the moment,”  says senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

That’s how the president found civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s cover story last fall in The Atlantic on the NCAA, called “The Shame of College Sports.”

“He was struck by it,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, speaking at a Politico “Playbook” breakfast Wednesday, noting that sometimes the president recommends articles to staff, instead of the other way around.

 

For a man who came into the presidency worried about getting trapped inside the White House “bubble,” Mr. Obama has clearly found his portal into the outside world through technology. Besides his iPad, he still has his trusty “bionic” BlackBerry.

Obama is also a big fan of Washington Post wunderkind Ezra Klein, who writes “Wonkbook.”  It’s “a smart look at politics and policy,” says Pfeiffer, who was White House communications director before ascending in the second term to senior adviser. “It takes serious things seriously.”

As with the Taylor Branch piece, Obama’s status as a sports super-fan is reflected widely in his reading habits. “[He] likes to get away from day-to-day politics [with] ... ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, magazines like that,” says Pfeiffer. “You need a break.”

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Last year, when Bill Simmons, editor of the sports site Grantland.com, invited Obama to do his podcast, the president was “very excited.”  

On the issue of the president’s reputed lack of enthusiasm for press conferences, Pfeiffer pushed back – sort of. Obama likes “good, smart reporters who ask good questions,” he said.

Pfeiffer also rejected the idea that Obama cherry picks his interviewers, favoring TV personalities he and his staff think will go easy on him.  

"There is no such thing as a softball interview," said Pfeiffer, who points out that there’s no way to know in advance what the president will be asked. In one “Tonight Show” appearance, Jay Leno asked about the financial crisis, Syria, housing, and Afghanistan, Pfeiffer notes. And in an interview on “The Daily Show” in February, Jon Stewart drilled down on drone policy.

“We’re going to do interviews with everyone, from Jon Stewart to 'Sixty Minutes'  to Bill Simmons’ podcast and everything in between,” Pfeiffer says.

Still, he didn’t offer much comfort to print reporters who would love to have a sit-down with Obama.

“We pick our interviews based on … reach,” he says. “It’s not just the total audience, it’s the platform. It’s whether we think it’s going to have buzz.”

The only print outlet to land an interview with Obama lately is The New Republic. But that came about through a personal connection: TNR’s new owner is Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who coordinated online organizing for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

 

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