Don't adjust your set: Obama's on almost every channel

Kansas City StarSeptember 23, 2009 

Want some more Barack Obama?

Tune in to your favorite cable news channel — you can see him speak to the General Assembly at the United Nations.

That's if you didn't get enough from the president's David Letterman appearance Monday. Or his interviews on five different talk shows Sunday. Or his speech two weeks ago to Congress. Or his address to students. Or his appearance on "60 Minutes." Or his new YouTube health care video. Or his chat with the Pittsburgh newspaper.

"He's been on everything but the Food Channel," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina groused Sunday.

Obama isn't peddling ShamWows yet, but he is raising eyebrows among Republicans and Democrats alike for an extremely aggressive public appearance profile in the first nine months of his presidency.

He's held four prime-time news conferences, equaling George W. Bush's eight-year tally. (Bush held several more news conferences during the day.) By one estimate, Obama has averaged one speech per day since taking office. Another study concluded that all the Obama stories on the front page of The New York Times this year, laid end-to-end, would stretch nearly two miles.

It's too much, some political consultants say.

"His message is very diluted," said Cathy Nugent of Kansas City.

"I don't know if anyone would have said before . . . Sunday that they hadn't seen the president enough," said Patrick Tuohey, who has developed communications strategies for campaigns and companies.

The White House rejects the idea that the communicator-in-chief is overexposed.

"The American people clearly get their information from many news sources these days," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "And the president believes and has for quite some time that people deserve to hear the reason he's making certain decisions."

For now, at least, a majority of voters agree with Gibbs.

Asked in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll if Obama has been overexposed, 54 percent said no. Nine percent said they'd like to see more, while 34 percent said he's too visible.

Democrats say Obama may have little choice but to take his case to the airwaves, the Internet and newspapers.

"Right now, it's the best thing we've got going," said Peter Goelz, a communications consultant and former public relations coordinator for the National Transportation Safety Board. "When Obama gets up and speaks, he doesn’t look like some fool being battered . . . at the town meetings."

But he and other analysts also say Obama's strategy is a gamble. Too much TV time, they say, can lead viewers and voters to tune out whatever the president is talking about.

"It is risky," said University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis, but "the president still commands the biggest bully pulpit, and he can command the heights of the argument."

Obama drew more than 10 million viewers for his "60 Minutes" appearance, a healthy audience in an era of fractured network programming. Monday's "Late Night with David Letterman" drew the comedian's biggest audience in four years.

More than 32 million people watched Obama's health care speech before a joint session of Congress.

"For the political right and the corporate media . . . whining that Obama hits the screens too much, or is in general 'doing too much,' is their way of telling him to be more like a Republican president than a Democratic one, to do nothing on health care, economic justice, student loans, or whatever the issue may be," wrote Leslie Savan on The Nation blog site.

Republicans, though, insist the speeches don't contain new information.

"There was nothing that will move the needle, if you will, on this debate," said GOP Chairman Michael Steele on Sunday.

Concerns about a 24/7 Obama aren't new.

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Obama has been on every screen in the country, TV and computer, every day. He is never not on the screen. I know what his people are thinking: Put his image on the age. Imprint the era with his face. But it's already reaching saturation point. When the office is omnipresent, it is demystified."

Noonan published those words Jan. 30 — 10 days after Obama took office.

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