By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When U.S. President Joe Biden appears for a CBS interview this Super Bowl Sunday, he will be following a recent White House tradition of using the country’s most-watched sporting event to reach a national audience in the tens of millions.
Presidents have used the annual National Football League championship game to try to promote an image of being someone that viewers would like to have a beer with – or in teetotaler Biden’s case, a bowl of ice cream.
“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell, a former White House correspondent, will interview Biden, with excerpts to air on Friday and the whole session to be shown in the 4 p.m. EST hour on Sunday. CBS is broadcasting the Super Bowl this year, with the game starting around 6:30 p.m. EST.
Biden, known to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan, has given no indication of which team he will be cheering on in the showdown between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Last year’s game, 2020’s single most-viewed U.S. television event, was watched by an estimated 99.9 million people – a clue to how many people Biden might reach to promote his $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package and offer his first expansive views on any number of domestic and foreign topics.
“It’s an audience that is not just going to be the true believers,” said Thomas Alan Schwartz, a presidential scholar at Vanderbilt University.
“The Super Bowl is one of the secular national holidays we have that tends to promote unity, the idea being that we all like watching the game. It’s an opportunity to hit an audience that he would otherwise have a hard time finding,” he said.
Presidents in the past have joined in the festivities by calling the coach of the victorious team. In 1972, noted football fan Richard Nixon called Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula before the Super Bowl to suggest a pass play he might try against the Dallas Cowboys.
George W. Bush began the tradition of an interview around the Super Bowl, appearing with CBS lead commentator Jim Nantz in 2004 for a light interview mostly about the game.
“I think it’s going to be a very close contest, but what the heck do I know? I’m just the president,” Bush said.
More recent interviews have been more serious. Democratic President Barack Obama was grilled in 2013 by then-Fox News Channel commentator Bill O’Reilly about the rocky rollout of the website for his Obamacare healthcare plan and the militant attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
In 2019, then-President Donald Trump granted an interview to CBS’ “Face the Nation” as part of the run-up to the game and talked about his differences with the U.S. intelligence community.
He skipped a Super Bowl interview last year.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney