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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama and the Media - A Full Court Press

It's been a while since I wrote on the president and his communication-media-political style. Last night's 1 hour press conference with 300 reporters was a high profile display of how the President of the United States chooses to communicate and what the media reports about it. So I have some thoughts on form and substance (or lack thereof).

The Message:

The president restated his position and elaborated on the need for spending on education, energy and health care. He did a great job of staying on message for the full hour and provided details as he answered questions from the press. He was particularly effective at explaining why investing in future growth was required to lower the deficit. He very nearly quoted Reagan circa 1982 in his call for cutting taxes, eliminating government waste and increasing deficit spending.

The President and the Prompter:

He looked a bit was the end of a long day. He was criticized almost immediately on the use of the teleprompter in the back of the room. The image makers at the White House were no doubt trying to deal with the recurring conservative meme about Obama being unable to speak without a teleprompter. So they took the small screen from his face and moved it away from the cameras.

I'm willing to bet that Obama hates the teleprompter. Unlike Bush, he doesn't need one in order to speak clearly or coherently. Obama is a master of delivery and the prompter is a distraction that breaks his rhythm. I've used a teleprompter and it essentially makes you read a script into a TV camera. It tends to make you look as though you are reading a prepared statement - because you are. What he has probably learned (and been told) is that the teleprompter is there to help him remember the key points, names, dates and figures he needs for greater impact on the national debate. I think we'll see him improve. Meantime, the White House should disregard the critics and let their man work.

Press Reports Top Story of 2009: The Press!

It's amazing to me that one of last night's first headlines on Huffington Post pointed at another post on Politico, reporting that the President didn't call on the Washington Post or the New York Times.


On the day the president re-affirmed his vision of a transformative economic agenda, the top story is: one media outlet covering another media outlet covering other media outlets.
(HELLO HEllo Hello hello! There's an ECHO ECho Echo echo!)

The press really loves the sound of it's own voice.

The Political Bout - President Ahead on Points

On :60 Minutes, Steve Croft asked, "Are you punch drunk?" Let's take that fight analogy to the press conference. I watched the full conference then looked at the transcript of a live blog on the Washington Post.

President Obama did two things that showed his control of the Press and the Opposition.

1) The president was asked whether or not he would sign a bill that did not include several of the budget items he has asked for. He patiently explained to the press why he wouldn't comment on signing legislation that hasn't been written yet. He has a backhanded way of scolding the press for not asking smart questions.

Bush used to tell the press what he was going to sign becuase he already knew what the White House had directed Republicans to pass. Then they'd give a press release to the media. Obama appears content to propose legislation and then wait for the legislative process to deliver a bill to his desk. This means Congress has to work harder and so does the political press.

2)He repeatedly hit GOP critics for leaving a record deficit and being unable to deliver an alternative budget plan.

On this point, conservatives are stuck. The WaPo blog comments I read last night illustrate why. They howl about Obama leading us to more government intervention but they won't propose an alternative because they can't without contradicting their own rigid ideology or acknowledging their own political failure.

Being opposed to all government solutions means being incapable of imagining any government solutions. Obama knows that they are in a logic trap while people are looking to him for answers.

The Strategy:

Team Obama may not be smart enough to create it's own opportunities, but it is smart enough to sieze them. Secretatry Geithner was on the Hill yesterday explaining why the treasury needs more regulatory power to deal with investment firms. Obama repeated that position last night when talking about the banks and answering a question about AIG.

The outrage over AIG has created the perfect setup for bi-partisan support of market regulation; something that would have been impossible in February. Populist outrage will give GOP members all the cover they need to put those greedy bankers in their place.

In response, an AIG VP publicly resigned in bitter protest this morning. Gee. And after all you guys did for us too.

Sorry Mr. DeSantis, there are no blue collar equity traders. You had opportunities like few others. That includes a chance to yell, "take this job and shove it!" in the New York Times.


After town hall meetings, Leno, :60 Minutes and a nationally televised press conference, the president still has a long way to go to convince Congress. But he apparently scored with the public. He may have a problem with financial capital, but not with political capital. And Steve Croft - there's a reason Obama is laughing. He's the only heavyweight champion in a division of lightweights. Real Politics shows him at 67% approval.

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