Published August 20, 2012
"I don't think that they're more important, but I think they're equally important. I think that's where a lot of Americans get their news. And I think the president's going to continue doing that."
-- Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter on “State of the Union” when asked why the president is bypassing national news outlets to conduct interviews with celebrity trackers like People magazine and “Entertainment Tonight.”
President Obama has a busy media schedule today.
He will give a round of brief interviews to local reporters invited to the White House for what are likely the 4-minute sessions favored by the campaign and administration. This evening, “Entertainment Tonight” will air the third part of the extensive sit down interview the president and first lady did with the leading showbiz program.
Obama this year has done dozens of interviews with local outlets, talked with ESPN about his bracket picks and discussed Kim Kardashian’s divorce in his fourth appearance on ladies’ chat show “The View.”
By contrast, the president this year has granted only one solo press conference at the White House, which was his first in five months. He’s taken questions here and there, especially on overseas trips, but has avoided the dangers of open-ended sessions with the press corps that covers him.
Obama has even stepped past outlets that Republicans accuse of fawning coverage. Obama’s last sit-down interview with the New York Times was in September 2010. The Washington Post has been waiting since December of 2009.
Obama’s media strategy has many upsides, especially since it lowers the chances of a campaign-changing gaffe.
Sure things can go wrong, like they did last week when Kiki Garcia, one of the hosts of “Morning Mayhem” on KOB FM in Albuquerque and runner up in the station’s Christmas “Candy Cane Suck Off,” was heard to squeal, “I just flirted with the President of the United States of America,” after an interview with Obama. And sometimes a local reporter uses his or her four minutes to get aggressive with the president.
But with usage restrictions and delayed distribution, anything Obama says or does is less likely to cause an uproar than a blunder he might make in a full-dress press conference.
But there are downsides, too. One is that it makes the reporters who cover Obama grumpy. No one much cares about the bruised egos of the political press, but it can add hostility to the usually sympathetic coverage of the incumbent.
Whatever bias exists inside the national press, there is one unquestionable slant among Washington political reporters: they are a prideful bunch. Obama’s decision to do low-risk, swing-state interviews and puffy patter with infotainment outlets, has stoked some resentment among the top-tier reporters assigned to cover him.
It also allows issues to fester. One of the reasons that presidents hold press conferences is to give their surrogates a way to deal with difficult questions. “As the president said in his press conference…”
Consider the still-simmering controversy over an ad by the political action committee Obama backs that implicates Mitt Romney in a Kansas City woman’s death, now two-weeks old. Until Obama deals with the issue directly, his campaign team will continue to have to tap dance around the topic.
Another example: Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks on slavery in Virginia last week. Obama brushed off the subject with People magazine, but that is not going to be enough to placate news reporters.
The biggest danger, though, is that it makes the president seem unserious at the very moment when Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan are grabbing for gravitas. Romney is moving out of his media comfort zone, taking more questions from reporters and subjecting himself to more sit-down interviews.
The rap on Romney was that he was running the same kind of campaign as Obama did in 2008: long on promises of change but short on specifics. Being a Republican and lacking the president’s star power, Romney was getting beaten up pretty badly for ducking the tough questions.
Now, with Ryan on the ticket and working hard to emphasize substance, it provides an unhappy contrast for Obama. The president’s campaign has been largely negative and very personal, seemingly more about Romney’s character than defending his own record or explaining his path “forward” for the nation.
Leading liberal columnist Paul Krugman of the New York Times today bashes Ryan as “unserious” and accuses political reporters of being gullible for casting the House Budget Committee chairman as a budget hawk and a policy wonk.
But the reporters who have covered Ryan for his nearly 14 years in Congress almost uniformly find him to be far removed from the dominant political species on Capitol Hill: the talkingpointasaursus.
Obama has had success in steering around the national press and choosing a low-risk media strategy. But, just as with his character attacks on Romney, the disadvantages are starting to mount as the campaign moves into the home stretch.
The Day in Quotes
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
-- Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, in an interview with St. Louis FOX affiliate KTVI. Akin would later apologize for being insensitive to rape victims.
"And let's not forget that this is the commander in chief who finally led the mission that brought Usama bin Laden to justice."
-- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introducing President Obama at a Granite State rally.
“Well, you need to know that the Medicare trust fund is going broke in twelve years, and President Obama's not only for the status quo but he wants more spending without reform.”
-- Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., on “Meet the Press.”
“The president has breathed eight years more life into Medicare with his changes. And what we see on the other side with Romney and Ryan, unfortunately, is the death knell of Medicare as we know it.”
-- Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on “Face the Nation.”
“If it had been a Republican vice presidential candidate who had made those gaffes, one after another, so comically, and all on tape, the subject today of the panel would be how stupid is this person, can this person possibly govern?”
-- Peggy Noonan on “Meet the Press.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.