The Ottumwa Courier

April 10, 2013

Obama controls the message


The Ottumwa Daily Courier

---- — An article distributed last week by the Associated Press focuses on the Obama administration’s efforts to control the imagery and information flowing out of Washington, highlighting the benefits and pitfalls.

“Capitalizing on the possibilities of the digital age, the Obama White House is generating its own content like no president before and refining its media strategies in the second term in hopes of telling a more compelling story than in the first,” writer Nancy Benac offers.

“At the same time, it is limiting press access in ways that past administrations wouldn’t have dared, and the president is answering to the public in more controlled settings than his predecessors,” she adds.

The article correctly notes the president’s strategy mirrors what other politicians are doing.

Iowa’s own Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, for instance, is a well-known user of Twitter. Nearly 67,000 followers learned Tuesday that Grassley attended five meetings in two days in Iowa and from a room at a Super 8 motel watched the Hawkeye men beat Maryland in the NIT basketball tournament. He also shared the thought on his Facebook page.

Grassley, like every senator, also has an official dot-gov website, and he offers weekly video addresses and other clips on YouTube.

Clearly, access by the citizenry to elected officials represents a time-honored tradition. Technology simply makes contact much more immediate and available.

Benac, though, concludes the Obama administration’s efforts tilt strongly toward control and raise “questions about what’s lost when the White House tries to make an end run around the media, functioning, in effect, as its own news agency.”

Obama has conducted less than a third as many sessions with reporters in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush but twice as many press conferences, according to Benac. Obama in his first term also offered 674 interviews, 266 more than Bush and Bill Clinton combined.

Again, though, the issue is control.

“With interviews, the president has more power to choose his timing, questioners and format, in hopes of delivering a certain message in a setting that’s not always hard-hitting,” Benac writes.

“ ... Wide-open opportunities to challenge the president on the events of the day have become increasingly rare,” she adds.

Critics argue against a “media filter” that blocks messages elected officials intend. But a strainer on the other end, one that takes stringent control of imagery and information and offers only spin, damages credibility, too.

— Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. April 4, 2013.