What had been a routine Super Bowl tradition - President Barack Obama sitting for an interview to be broadcast during the pre-game coverage on Sunday – has now given way to a political and media free-for-all, with Republicans, and even a few Democrats, planning to release their own pregame interviews in response to the president’s.
In a statement, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, who is to handle the pre-game interview of the president, admitted to planning to speak only with Mr. Obama. But he said he would welcome the challenge of meeting one-on-one with the dozens who wanted to issue their own Super Bowl interview response if broadcasting those would help boost his ratings beyond the 70-million-viewer total reached during Barbara Walters’ interview with Monica Lewinsky in 1999, the most-watched television interview aired.
“Let’s make this the best Super Bowl ever for me and my fans,” Mr. O’Reilly wrote.
Some Super Bowl advertisers and the National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, are concerned the last-minute effort at upstaging the president will divert attention away from the more important spectacles of the championship game and its multi-million-dollar commercials. But those protestations have largely been drowned out by the rush of politicians eager to offer their own spin on what Mr. Obama says during his interview with Mr. O’Reilly.
It is three Republican senators - Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ted Cruz of Texas – who have been the most vocal about their plans, insisting they would release their own interviews with Mr. O’Reilly in response to the president’s, with or without the Fox News host’s help.
Mr. Paul has said he plans to spend part of Super Bowl Sunday in a television studio off Capitol Hill recording his own unsanctioned rebuttal to Mr. Obama’s pre-game interview, which will then be distributed to news outlets around the world, and to the hundreds of thousands of people the senator reaches online through Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
And Mr. Lee, who is insisting on top billing – complicating matters some for Mr. O’Reilly and the president – will deliver the official tea party post-interview response as well as a game prediction.
Not to be outdone, and not content to be confined to a studio, Mr. Cruz, who has been working all week with Seattle Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman on perfecting a playoff-appropriate rant, is adamant that Mr. O’Reilly interview him on the field, even threatening to turn off the power during the game if his demands aren’t met.
Bill and Hillary Clinton also hinted they would be releasing a Super Bowl interview response that would help explain what Mr. Obama had meant when answering Mr. O’Reilly’s questions.
And in a surprise announcement, Vice President Joe Biden said he is planning a pre-game interview response with Mr. O’Reilly in which he will be dressed only in briefs from the David Beckham Bodywear line.
But what will make his appearance really novel, Mr. Biden said, is that viewers of his interview can vote on the ending, which will run in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.
“Let’s hear what Gates has to say about that,” said a grinning and largely unclothed Mr. Biden, referring to former defense secretary Robert Gates, whose recently released book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” criticized some of Mr. Biden’s judgments in world affairs.
With the jockeying over pre-game Super Bowl interview responses intensifying in the run-up to Sunday’s game, threatening to drag the White House into another partisan fight, Mr. Obama, as he has throughout his presidency, tried to find a middle ground with his critics. He suggested it might be better for Mr. O’Reilly, for Super Bowl viewers, and for the retailer H&M, which sells the David Beckham Bodywear line, if the legislators made themselves and their responses available on a day that a Super Bowl isn’t being played.
“It occurs to me there are 364 of those, so I think we can work together on this and come up with something that makes sense for everyone,” he said.
But Mr. Cruz, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Paul insisted that “surrender” was out of the question, saying that if the president felt so strongly about compromise, he should step aside and leave the pre-game interview with Mr. O’Reilly to them and issue his own response later.
Wandering the hallways at MetLife Stadium just days before the big game, Mr. Goodell cut a lonely and forlorn figure, dismayed that it was not the threat of foul weather or a matchup of smaller market football teams that was threatening to shut down his great spectacle, but a horde of self-serving lawmakers who seemed to place their own interests above the game’s.
“Who would ever have thought that something like that would happen to the Super Bowl,” he said.
Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.