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TCA: CBS' McManus, Couric Defend Obama Trip Coverage

Beverly Hills -- CBS News president Sean McManus and CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric addressed the criticism over planned coverage of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) imminent trip to the Middle East and Europe.

“I think that any time a candidate who has been questioned about his stance on foreign policy and his expertise on foreign policy makes his first major foreign trip to the Middle East, it’s an enormous news event,” McManus said during CBS News’ presentation Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour here. “If we didn't cover it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.”

Obama will be shadowed by a gaggle of media -- including anchors from all three evening newscasts -- during his trip next week. The press entourage has generated a fair amount of derision from partisan critics including pointed criticism from the campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

“Let’s drop the pretense that this is a fact-finding trip and call it what it is: the first-of-its-kind campaign rally overseas,” said Jill Hazelbaker, McCain’s communications director, on Fox News Channel Thursday.

Many critics have pointed out that McCain’s multiple trips to the region -- three in the past four months -- generated only passing media curiosity.

Answering those criticisms, Couric said that had McCain “extended an invitation and offered time for network anchors to sit down and talk to him [during his trip], that’s something we would have done.”

“I think it’s very deft on the part of the Obama campaign,” she added.

Each of the anchors -- Couric, ABC’s Charles Gibson and NBC’s Brian Williams -- will get an interview with Obama in a different country, ensuring some degree of exclusivity for each. A detailed itinerary has not been released for security reasons, but Obama is expected to visit Iraq and Afghanistan and has announced plans to visit Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England.

The Obama campaign will be able to accommodate a fraction of the more than 200 journalists who have applied to accompany the Illinois senator on his trip.

"It's not as if it's going to be, ‘How do you like the weather in Jordan, Senator?'” Couric said. “I mean, clearly, there are a number of really critical questions to talk with Sen. Obama about. He was opposed to the surge, and it's the very thing that may enable him to carry out his withdrawal plan because military violence is down considerably as a result. There are so many things to talk to him about: Arab-Israeli relations, Europe and the view of the United States in these European countries. So it's rich material.”

For the latest news and video from the TCA press tour, click here.