Thursday, July 29, 2010

President Obama on 'The View,' Next Stop 'Celebrity Rehab'

To the annals of "great" moments in political/statesman communications -- FDR's Fireside chats, Nixon's Checkers comments, the Nixon/JFK debates, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall" -- we can now add President Obama on "The View." Next stop is sure to be "Celebrity Rehab" or "Intervention" as his communications team needs an intervention and his presidency and his image need a complete rehabilitation.

When we talk about "great" we can mean significance, as in I think this may significant and be remembered as one of the lowest points in the Obama administration, which has seemed to be flailing about more than ever recently.

This "tea summit" I viewed only because I was in my doctor's waiting room. I don't regularly watch "The View" (nor do I know anyone who does).

I sat there with my mouth agape and just laughed and laughed. I chuckled at the awkwardness of the situation (OK ladies, we just sit here and try to stay awake while he recites talking points) and the incongruousness of these hosts "interviewing" someone not famous for making bad movies or reality TV. They seemed as surprised as me that he was sitting there with him.

Of course they had to read questions their staff researchers prepared, to be vetted by White House communications, off of index cards. Of course I could barely understand what Barbara Walters was saying (something about why can't we just get out of Afghanistan?) Can anyone?

Our friends at HuffPo give a pretty good recap of the appearance.

So, now for our thoughts:

1. It's an embarrassment that this is the level of public discourse in our country.
2. It's quite possible this PR stunt by Obama's team is only setting the president up for ridicule (I'll be watching the Daily Show tonight fo sho).
3. From a comms perspective, it's sometimes good strategy to put the spokesperson (in this case, the President) in a friendly, non-threatening environment. Surely they made deals about what questions were going to ask and what topics would be covered. "The View" is certainly not a serious news organization with "journalistic" standards. Therefore, they would seem to be a flexible partner in getting your message out.
4. Not a bad play to try to appeal to women.
5. The Sherrod mess is a distraction from what has been a troubled agenda that needs the White House's focus more than ever. But, the story was going away on its own. He could have done this last week if the goal was really to get past that story. But of course, that isn't why he went on "The View."
6. Obama went on The View because:

A. His presidency is in serious trouble (as the mid-terms are all but certain to show): and

B. His strategists have simply run out of ideas: First it was "you're the hopey/wonky president" who's going to save the economy and end all wars. Then it was "more stimulus more stimulus and 'peace with honor' (or some variation of the Nixon trope)." We've heard about green energy economics and healthcare. None of these themes and their messages have had any permanent sticking power to help define this presidency. One can only imagine what the communications staff's message calendar must look like (if they even have one!).

I've worked in communications for a long time (including for senior elected officials) and we rarely see an administration that is SO ALL OVER THE PLACE. 

It is time for this president to define himself but I'm very afraid he's done it already: the Talk Show President.

Thanks for reading.
Jonathan Gardner

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