Obama on The View: Playing by the New Media Rules

Posted by on Jul 27, 2010 in barack obama, conservative, extremism, media, politics, television | 0 comments

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has gone after President Obama for deciding to appear on the daytime talk show “The View”:

I think there’s got to be a little bit of dignity to the presidency. […] I think there are some shows. I wouldn’t put him on “Jerry Springer,” too, right? … I think the president of the United States has to go on serious shows. And “The View” is, you can make a case that it’s a serious show, but it also rocks and rolls a little bit. I’m not sure he has to go on “The View” to be open to questions.

Right-wing Extremists have picked this up and run with it of course. But, they and Rendell miss the Big Picture. They don’t get it.

Back in 1993, President Clinton was heavily criticized for deciding to appear on MTV. It too was seen as “unpresidential”. But, at the time, and in retrospect, it was a brilliant stroke of media genius. And, through an entirely unscripted moment of unexpected “intimacy”, a new media world was born. Love it, hate it, it’s here. And, it’s important to remember, Obama is working in that world. The Museum of Television has this to say about that past media moment for Clinton, snd how it changed politics and the Presidency:

April 20, 1993 — Bill Clinton’s MTV Appearance

Not a historic date, perhaps, but a suggestive one. It was on this date that Bill Clinton discussed his underwear with the American people (briefs, not boxers, as it turned out). Why would the leader of the free world unburden himself like this? Why not? In television’s increasingly postmodern world, all texts–serious and sophomoric–swirl together in the same discontinuous field of experience. To be sure, Mr. Clinton made his disclosure because he had been asked to do so by a member of the MTV generation, not because he felt a sudden need to purge himself. But in doing so Clinton exposed several rules connected to the new phenomenology of politics: (1) because of television’s celebrity system, presidents are losing their distinctiveness as social actors and hence are often judged by standards formerly used to assess rock singers and movie stars; (2) because of television’s sense of intimacy, the American people feel they know their presidents as persons and hence no longer feel the need for party guidance; (3) because of the medium’s archly cynical worldview, those who watch politics on television are increasingly turning away from the policy sphere, years of hyper-familiarity having finally bred contempt for politics itself. For good and ill, then, presidential television grew apace between 1952 and the present. It began as a little-used, somewhat feared, medium of exchange and transformed itself into a central aspect of American political culture. In doing so, television changed almost everything about life in the White House. It changed what presidents do and how they do it. (Emphasis added)

Rendell doesn’t get it. The View is the perfect venue for Obama to communicate and reach out to the audience.

The idea that a show isn’t “presidential” enough is a matter of how the president behaves on that show. And, while I’m not a fan of The View, it’s clearly not Jerry Springer. It’s a show for moms, young women and older women. And, it’s a casual venue. As the Clinton example shows, even something potentially unpresidential can become a historical moment of presidential restraint, humor and connectedness to the people. And, a casual venue is the way to go to bring Obama to the people, give him more humanity and appeal, which media exposure tends to eat away.

I’d expect that is what many Conservatives fear.

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