Obama does another end-run around the antsy-pantsy press
In some ways, the media's coverage of the Obama stimulus plan has been painfully reminiscent of an 8-hour trip in a car full of 10 year olds. While much of the country seems to be preparing for a long, soul-searching journey to economic responsibility, many commentators are endlessly rehashing some version of the dread refrain, "are we there yet?"
To me, this tendency toward attention-deficit punditry is getting irritating; after all, anybody with the attention span of a gnat can tell that the country's economic malaise is not going to be solved overnight or even in a few months. The most optimistic projections suggest that an economic recovery won't begin to happen until the end of 2009, and most experts are expecting 2010 to be the year when things really begin to turn around.
Under the circumstances, President Obama's current media blitz makes a lot of sense. His first stop, The Tonight Show, was designed to remind the American people of the reasons they voted for him. The goal was to appear playful, thoughtful and at ease. Of course, as the punditry was quick to point out, the President was, perhaps, a little too at ease, and his "Special Olympics" remark was quickly attacked.
Regardless, he was soon off to 60 Minutes, a medium-wonky news program, where he was able to offer a more substantive discussion of his policies and take aim at some of his critics. Noting the media's short attention span, he summed up their attitude: "What's taken so long? You've been in office a whole 40 days and you haven't solved the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression."
This, perhaps, explains why Step Three is to take his case directly to the people. In the event any of us have been confused or riled up by the media's squirming around next to us on this seemingly "endless" journey, this is the President's chance to pull over, turn off the Shrek videos and books on tape and explain why everyone just needs to chill the heck out.
Actually, he's already started the process. While on the West Coast for The Tonight Show, the President held several "town hall" meetings. According to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, today's question-and-answer is "a way for the President to do what he enjoys doing out on the road, but saves on gas [. . .] It's just we'll have people hooked up from a lot of different places all over the country, but he'll be able to do all that from the East Room."
In addition to questions submitted via the internet (about 70,000 as of 3 AM on Thursday), Obama will also face a live audience of about 100 people. Expect the questions to be less aggressive and headline-seeking than at a typical press conference, and selected more to provide clarity and recalibrate expectations.
At Tuesday's press conference, the most dramatic (and oft-cited) moment was when CNN correspondent Ed Henry asked why Obama waited several days before informing the public about AIG's bonuses. Obama's terse, clipped response that "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak" suggests the key point of dispute between him and the otherwise frequently adoring press corps. The 24-hour news cycle demands quick, dramatic responses to problems. The Obama White House, on the other hand, is inclined to wait and think before it opens its mouths. If there is one thing that can be definitively said about the President's response to the economy, it's that there will not be a "flight suit" moment with shots of him smiling under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
You'll know you're there, kids, when you're there.