Posted by: samhenry | September 21, 2009

Media Management – Hallmark of the Obama WH


Clockwise from center left, Bob Schieffer of CBS, George Stephanopoulos of ABC, Jorge Ramos of Univision, David Gregory of NBC and John King of CNN

( above images from the New York Times)

Submitted by SamHenry, editor.

Last Friday, five middle-aged to old male news anchors from the 5 major TV networks rotated in and out of the “interviewer’s chair” in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to tape interviews with the President to be aired on their respective Sunday talk shows.

The nation has long been accustomed to Mr. Obama’s carefully planned Press Conferences.  This became apparent at the time of the Gates affair when it was known that the President had settled on who among the members of the press he would call upon and in what order. This was confirmed when one journalist tried to go ahead of another whose turn was next and the President himself stepped in to correct the matter.

During Obama media events, there is no spontaneity, no off-hand remark on the part of the President (albeit his audiences cannot always be controlled as he discovered recently on Capitol Hill).  So at the end of the day Sunday one was tempted to ask: is this Mme. Tussaud’s or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Is this the 5th estate in America happy to play Administration games with public information?

This was an embarrassing afternoon both for the Administration and for the networks.  In the end, the media outlets could have set this up they way they did, say, Michael Jackson’s funeral: CNN would do sound and camera and feed it to other news outlets.  It’s so easy to manipulate the media.

One would never think to see the New York Times print the following article.  This is heavy rather rightish winged stuff, n’est-ce-pas?

From Obama, Five Programs, One Message

New York Times

Published: September 20, 2009

No one shifted an armchair, moved a flower arrangement or asked an unexpected question.

President Obama gave five back-to-back television interviews broadcast on Sunday that were as tightly choreographed — and eerily similar — as the multiple Magritte bowler-hatted men milling in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

The president’s talk show grand slam, conversations with CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and Univision, all taped on Friday in the Roosevelt Room, was a remarkable — and remarkably overt — display of media management. Mr. Obama even doled out equal doses of presidential charm, chuckling ruefully about “rambunctious” protesters to Bob Schieffer of CBS and speaking self-deprecatingly to George Stephanopoulos of ABC, conceding that he had not presented his health care proposals in a way that allowed people to put “their whole arms around it.”

“And that’s been a case where I have been humbled, and I just keep on trying harder,” he said. “Because I–I really think it’s the right thing to do for the country.”

No other president has been a guest on so many Sunday talk shows at once, which signaled how much Mr. Obama wanted to reclaim the health care debate and persuade skeptics that his plans would not increase taxes on the middle class. But for so well-spoken and confident a president, the lack of spontaneity on Sunday was striking. So was the homogeneity: Mr. Obama appeared on Univision, but he drew the line at Fox.

Viewers have grown accustomed to the drama of live politics. Sunday looked more like a string of TNT reruns, an Obama health care overhaul marathon.

In each conversation, Mr. Obama proved what most people already know: he is a deft and appealing speaker who can stay on message. But there was nothing in those stagy interviews that shed light on whether his message would take hold. When asked by ABC if a health insurance mandate was the same as a tax increase, the president replied: “What I’ve said is that if you can’t afford health insurance, you certainly shouldn’t be punished for that.”

He added: “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it’s saying is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore.”

Mr. Obama declined to discuss his proposals on the one outlet guaranteed to find fault (or change the topic to the Acorn scandal). And that made his star turn look less like a media blitz than Medici vengeance — Fox did not broadcast Mr. Obama’s health care speech to Congress on Sept. 9, so Mr. Obama did not speak to “Fox News Sunday.”

That omission was not as tactical as it was telling: a rare sign of frustration, and payback, by a White House that prides itself on diplomacy and an even keel. Mr. Obama sought on Sunday to bring a little order and civility to a debate that grows ever more heated and shrill. But by boycotting, the White House seemed to be getting caught up in the kind of hostilities that increasingly divide Fox News Channel from its rivals.

Mr. Obama is not usually one to avoid high-risk interviews or dodge hostile crowds. He was the first sitting president to appear on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” in March, and despite a gaffe there the president plans to appear on David Letterman’s show on Monday. Mr. Obama has the wit to banter with comedians (and dance with Ellen DeGeneres). He has the charm to disarm detractors: his 2008 campaign interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” was quite cordial.

But Mr. Obama chose to make a statement — and raise a distracting fuss on Fox News — by declining to speak.

And Fox milked it. When he was not talking about Acorn, Mr. Wallace bemoaned the presidential slight, asking, “Whatever happened to reaching out to all Americans?” He told Bill O’Reilly that the White House aides were “a bunch of crybabies.”

Apparently, the feeling is mutual. “We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” a White House deputy press secretary told ABC News on Saturday. “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again; not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.”

Mr. Obama did not openly convey any animosity in his Sunday interviews. He was poised, thoughtful and, most of all, consistent, assuring each interviewer, in almost identical phrasing, that he had no immediate plans to send more troops to Afghanistan and that an economic recovery is at hand.

He was just as steady when his five interviewers asked if racism was responsible for some of the fiercer attacks on his presidency. Nipping the hands that he was feeding, Mr. Obama suggested that the news media were fueling the furor.

“I do think part of what’s different today is that the 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides,” he told Mr. Schieffer. “They can’t get enough of conflict. It’s catnip to the media right now.”

He said the same to David Gregory, the host of “Meet The Press” on NBC. “The media loves to have a conversation about race,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “This is catnip to, to the media because it is a running thread in American history that’s very powerful.”

Mostly, however, Mr. Obama demonstrated that the news media are catnip to presidents.

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