- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

The Obama White House has watched the disintegration of the old media order and drawn a simple conclusion - the president’s popularity is the dominant entity in the cluttered, chaotic modern media environment.

In separate interviews this week in their adjoining West Wing offices, press secretary Robert Gibbs and Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer talked at length about the multiplicity of sources - newspapers, network and cable television, radio, blogs - that comprise a news cycle that churns virtually around the clock.

“There are so many outlets and so many places that are driving the news that, in the end, nothing gets driven,” Mr. Gibbs said.

But both men indicated that this can work to their advantage.

It is harder for the White House to hammer “a central narrative,” Mr. Gibbs said, but “stories that you think are going to drive the day in a negative way maybe don’t have the impact” they would have had in the past.

Mr. Pfeiffer, a low-key 33-year-old former Senate staffer, indicated that President Obama is their narrative.

“The president came into office with a tremendous reservoir of good will and credibility with the American people and, as we run into the 100-day mark, he’s actually expanded that since he’s been at the White House, and that’s been a pretty, probably unprecedented feat,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.

Mr. Gibbs, Mr. Pfeiffer and senior adviser David Axelrod control the White House message and the president’s image, now that Communications Director Ellen Moran is leaving for a top Commerce Department job. A decision on her replacement - many expect it to be Mr. Pfeiffer - could be announced as early as Monday.

A senior White House official who did not want his name attached to statements about specific media outlets was more blunt about the power equation as viewed by the Obama White House.

“The way it used to be was that any White House or the Senate or the House or anyone like that was held hostage to a very small number of elite media outlets - the New York Times, The Washington Post, the networks,” he said.

“The power dynamic has shifted for three reasons. One, there are more media sources than there ever were before. Two, there’s no money. Newspapers are bleeding money. There are so many channels that the network channels are bleeding viewers. They’re less powerful. They control less than they did before.

“And three, Obama is more popular than all of them combined.”

Like many of his predecessors, Mr. Obama has strong favorable personal ratings in the polls just over three months into his term. In addition, an Associated Press-GfK poll released Thursday found that the percentage of Americans who think the country is moving “in the right direction” is greater than those who don’t for the first time in more than four years.

Forty-eight percent say the United States is moving in the right direction compared with 44 percent who say the country is moving in the wrong direction, the first time since 2004 that the optimists have outnumbered the pessimists.

“What the numbers are showing is confidence in President Obama even though economic conditions haven’t improved dramatically. It’s a different question than popularity,” said Faiz Shakir, research director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.

Story Continues →