Hands Off

Howie Kurtz has an interesting sort of profilish bit up for his “Media Notes” this morning regarding the relationship between Barack Obama and the press, one that I must admit kind of took me by surprise.  Specifically, he details just how hands off the Obama campaign has been with the journalists that cover him which is something of a departure from the relationships we often see build especially on the campaign trail.

According to Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod, this is all intentional, no spin, no cajoling, just let the press do their job, and as Howie will later point out, there is actually one aspect about this that seems to pay off.

When you cover politics regularly (and I’m only guessing here, but I’m going to say this is a very educated guess), you have a tendency to get desensitized.  While potential voters may see a stump speech from a candidate once, as a journalist following the trail, you watch that same stump speech probably to the point where it becomes little more than this buzzing sound.  Even from my armchair position I get that from time to time.

Journalists get access, and that access changes their perspective.  Further, it is impossible to discount that of all people, politicians will try and put on their best show for journalists, after all, they’re where you get your best free media from.  Late night conversations, the right sound bite, all of it, free advertizing if you play your cards right.

But the Obama campaign is different.  They don’t seem to be playing the media, an occurrence that seems to mirror the now seemingly atrocious debate performances from earlier last year.  It’s that kind of awkwardness that Obama tends to display around the old school, an awkwardness that in its own right finds an audience and endears him to them.  For instance, one of the reasons Obama survived his early debate performances was because many voters interpreted his stuttering and droning to be a sign of intelligence, and a refreshing inability to trim his answers down to perfect sound bites.  He just seemed more genuine.

Here, with the media, one can only stand back and say, if he’s hands off, it’s amazing he still gets all the good free press that he does.  Other politicians beg for it, he simply seems to get it, and again I don’t think this is by accident.

Axelrod, I believe, knows exactly what he’s got in his hands, and by keeping reporters at arm’s length has the effect of turning them perhaps into skeptical visitors to a rally.  But, as Kurtz points out, it’s hard to go to an Obama rally and not be swayed.  In fact, that’s exactly where I was three years ago, impressed with Obama’s 2004 convention speech, but really just as anxious to see then Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine.  And I remember my friend poking me in the ribs and saying, “I think we just watched a future president speak today”, after Obama left the stage.

The effect that Obama has on people who attend his rallies, and boy is that some effect, he also has on reporters as well.  Journalists come back from covering an Obama speech starry eyed and in a state of shock, and it’s hard to keep that out of your reporting, especially on television.

And you know something?  If that’s what your guy does to the press, is there really any better way to handle the media?

(via: memeorandum)

One Response to “Hands Off”

  1. As someone who attended an Obama political rally with a press pass here in St. Louis back in October, I can personally attest to this phenomena. Photographers and journalists were largely kept at bay throughout the event.

    Photographers were actually barred from the press pit in front of the stage were Obama was speaking at the start of the event, and only allowed to visit the press pit one or two at a time during Obama’s presentation, and they had to be escorted by an Obama campaign member.

    I can tell you that many of the press people were not amused, and I’ve never heard of such a thing. I had to get in line with about 15 other photographers, and I was lucky to get two or three minutes in front of the stage to get my pictures.

    There was a section directly to the right of the stage that was reserved for the elderly and disabled, and the press was barred from that area during the event as well. I think I would’ve had more opportunity to take pictures if I had just gotten in front of the stage early before the event started.

    The Obama campaign seems far more concerned with catering to supporters, then to the media. It was a bit shocking actually, and quite impressive as well.

    I can understand how media people get overwhelmed during Obama speeches, because it really is like being a rock concert, that is the only thing that is really comparable to the experience I had. The crowd energy was really unbelievable. The old guard journalists are the only ones who didn’t seem to get caught up in the fervor, all the young people, photographers and journalists 40 and under had huge smiles on their faces the whole time.

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