- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014

You know things are bad when a Democratic president complains that the mainstream media is ignoring him.

Increasingly in recent days, President Obama has been griping that the media isn’t covering his efforts to help middle class Americans.

“You don’t see it on TV sometimes — it’s not what the press and the pundits talk about,” Mr. Obama told an audience in Minnesota on Friday. “I’m here to tell you I’m listening, because you’re the reason I ran for president.”

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A day earlier, Mr. Obama ate lunch with 36-year-old Rebekah Erler in Minneapolis to show that he understands the struggles of average people. He told Mrs. Erler that he got into politics to help people like her, although he said “you may not hear it, because the press will not report it.”

While there’s always friction between the White House and the media, observers say it’s particularly significant to hear such criticisms coming from Mr. Obama, who has enjoyed generally favorable press coverage during his presidency and has discovered new ways to manage the news.

“All presidents complain that the media don’t treat them very well — this one has less reason to complain than most,” said Richard Benedetto, a journalism professor at American University and a former White House reporter. “He’s lived with message control for so long that when it gets out of his control, it’s tough for him to swallow.”

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Presidents usually can count on the White House “bully pulpit” to get their message out, but some strategists say Mr. Obama’s task is complicated by sagging job approval ratings in his second term and eroding popularity in his own party.

“Despite the presidential megaphone, it is frustrating for any lame duck president to effectively communicate his agenda,” said Stuart Roy, a Republican strategist who served as communications director to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. “The chore is made even more difficult in an election year when the president’s poll numbers are significantly underwater and he loses the automatic echo chamber of his own party in Congress.”

With the crucial mid-term elections approaching, Mr. Obama’s planned message about boosting wages and creating economic opportunity is competing with news beyond the control of the White House press shop, such as the Veterans Affairs scandal, missing Internal Revenue Service emails and national security emergencies in Iraq and Ukraine.

The president has tried to dismiss some of those problems, such as the IRS and Benghazi, as “phony” scandals. But none of the stories are likely to be wished away.

“When foreign policy comes along, you can’t control that,” Mr. Benedetto said. “All kinds of events that are going on overseas are usurping the domestic agenda that Obama likes to stick to. He’s run into a string of foreign affairs problems that he can’t control, and he hasn’t done too well in terms of the public’s view of it.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama isn’t targeting “any specific news organization” with his complaints, and said the president’s observations about the media are more of “an indictment of Republicans who are focused on different priorities.”

He said Mr. Obama wants to focus on the issues that people talk about at the kitchen table each night. Those topics perhaps are not as “sexy or intellectually captivating as some other things on the news more regularly,” Mr. Earnest said.

“But it doesn’t mean they’re less important,” he added.

Mr. Obama’s grumbling about a lack of desired news coverage is all the more striking because his White House has used social media far more often than previous administrations to bypass traditional news organizations and to control the president’s message more tightly than ever.

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