You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Obama begins health plan media blitz

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

It's the bully pulpit on steroids.

President Obama has embarked on an unparalleled public relations blitz designed to both sell his health care plan to the American public and put pressure on Congress to pass it.

The administration is working to beam the president and his health care message into the homes and consciousness of American voters so often that neither the public nor its representatives in Congress could possibly miss it. On Sunday alone, Mr. Obama will appear on five separate news talk shows, after a week spent visiting with "60 Minutes," "Good Morning America," CNBC, Bloomberg News, and even sports cable giant ESPN.

On Monday, he'll be back on the airwaves for a chat with David Letterman - the first time a sitting president has done a guest turn with the late-night talk-show host.

The Obama Offensive employs television, foremost, but will attempt to reach out through other media as well.

The president has designed a campaign-style stump speech, which even includes a reprise of the "Fired Up!" rallying cry Mr. Obama began using in advance of the Iowa caucuses. That battle cry, revived at a rousing Thursday morning rally on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, provided enough footage to fill Internet news sites and radio and television broadcasts for one afternoon.

Thursday's speech was being streamed live through what the White House called "an innovative Facebook application that will allow students nationwide to both watch the event and discuss it with others as it is happening."

Eric Yaverbaum, the New York public relations expert who wrote the book "PR for Dummies," said when it comes to saturating the market, the president's effort "is as good as it gets."

This might have seemed like overkill in past administrations, Mr. Yaverbaum said, but times have changed - Mr. Obama's message is in constant competition with the talking heads on 24-hour television news networks and with the bloggers on the Internet.

"As a lifetime PR practitioner I say, 'Talk as much as you can. Don't leave it to any of the pundits, from the right or left. Say it yourself,' " Mr. Yaverbaum said. "He's doing exactly what he did during the campaign. He's taking his message to the people."

The strategy is not without its risks, however. Especially with the Sunday talk shows, the president is quintupling the risk he will face an unexpected question from one of his hosts. It was a lesson he learned the hard way during a press conference in July.

The president was attempting to use the live exchanges with reporters to put to rest doubts about his health care plan. Then came a last, unrelated question about the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer as he tried to enter his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Obama's answer included the sound bite - "the Cambridge police acted stupidly" - that hijacked media coverage for days.

This weekend, the president could get pressed on former President Jimmy Carter's comment on the racism of administration critics, on Afghanistan, on the administration's shift on missile defense or something entirely unexpected, said Kevin Madden, who served as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's chief spokesman during the Republican's 2008 presidential bid.

"What you have to remember is, you have the better chance of having a disciplined clear message delivered when you do one show, which is then picked up by everybody," Mr. Madden said. "When you do five, you run the risk of having a diffuse message and you end up having wasted your Sunday and ruined your Monday and Tuesday."

One oft-repeated criticism of the president's aggressive approach has been that he is overdoing it, that he risks becoming overexposed or may in some way cheapen the currency of a presidential appearance.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs this week dismissed the concern, calling it out of touch with the modern media environment that, he said, has changed the rules of politics.

"I think gone are the days where one outlet is where everyone gets their news or one medium is where everybody gets their news," Mr. Gibbs said. "And I think this is just an attempt by the president to speak to as many different people as he can on an issue that's as important as something like health care reform."

Mr. Yaverbaum said he agrees with the White House on this point, but he does see one flaw in the president's media blitz. The one network Mr. Obama will not visit on Sunday, or apparently any other day, is Fox News.

"The only mistake at all here is that he's doing five shows Sunday and not six," Mr. Yaverbaum said. "The more communicating, the better."