A Number 44 Filter
In a post last week, I wrote about the adversarial relationship that inevitably develops between White House officials and the press corps assigned to cover their every move. My claim was that the instantaneous nature of today’s news cycle would likely accelerate the process of each side turning on the other. Although some political observers have argued the mainstream media was in the tank for Barack Obama throughout the election season, free passes typically vanish rather quickly, once the president and press corps assume their post-electoral institutional roles. I think reporters will be especially quick to do so this time around, given the criticism they received in the past for being too passive with President Bush, post-9/11.
As a result (as President Bush memorably noted), administrations look to find ways around the media filter, in order to increase the chances of getting their message out to the public as they intend it to be heard. For past presidents, this has usually meant bypassing the Washington press corps, and instead giving interviews to local media outlets around the country, where the news operations tend to be less adversarial in their coverage. But now President Obama is adding a whole new dimension by fully integrating web-based constituent outreach into the process of bypassing the media filter. As the New York Times observes today, this builds on Obama’s success in the same area during the presidential campaign.
This approach will certainly help Obama keep his expansive grassroots network invested in his presidency, and, in particular, it will allow him to target younger, tech-savvy voters who will comprise the foundation of any future Democratic coalition. But it is also true that for whatever unfiltered narrative the Obama Administration crafts for itself on the web, the Washington press corps will still write its own. Presidents that ignore this reality often end up with more aggravation than those who confront it head on. It remains to be seen which way Obama will go, but in the meantime he should remember the press is just down the hall.
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