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How Olbermann Landed Hillary

On Friday, April 18, Hillary Clinton's chief spokesman Howard Wolfson called MSNBC senior vice president Phil Griffin with an offer: Hillary Clinton would appear on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on the eve of the Pennsylvania Primary. For Olbermann, who blasted Sen. Clinton with a blistering “Special Comment” in the wake of Ferraro-gate last month, landing Clinton was something of a surprise get, and a coup for MSNBC.  

So how exactly did Olbermann score the coveted Clinton interview? For the past several weeks, according to an MSNBC executive, network officials had been requesting an interview with Sen. Clinton's press office in the run-up to the crucial PA primary. “The offer had been out there for a long, long time,” MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines confirmed by phone this evening.

MSNBC was surprised to get the call Friday. Olbermann's executive producer Izzy Povich is out of town this week. On Sunday, April 20, the Clinton campaign confirmed the Senator’s appearance for April 21 in a follow up call around 6:00 pm. Wolfson told me that the campaign had decided to do Olbermann to reach the maximum number of primary voters. “He has an important audience; his viewers in Pennsylvania vote,” Wolfson said by phone shortly before Sen. Clinton’s scheduled appearance on Olbermann tonight. Clinton will also appear on CNN's Larry King Live.

For Clinton, the Olbermann interview was the most recent page out of the campaign’s evolving media playbook. Known for her hostility to campaign beat reporters, as my colleague Michael Crowley reported, Clinton has sought increasing media coverage since losing in Iowa and finding herself in the unplanned position of trailing Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton has appeared in unconventional settings in part to soften her image, appeal to coastal elites as well as younger voters. In the run-up to the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries, Clinton made surprise appearances on the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, while last week, she continued her media push with a stop on the Colbert Report.

Asked if Sen. Clinton has embraced a more open relationship with the press, especially hip outlets like Olbermann, Wolfson said: “It's not a theory, it's a fact.”

--Gabe Sherman