Saturday, May 2, 2009

Taming of the shrewd: Obama stuns White House press corps

Journalists are interesting animals. You can handle them by giving them nicknames and treating them like a pledge class.

Or you can handle them by actually talking to them, every now and then, about what's going on:

With his chief counsel and chief of staff by his side, Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Friday, officially announcing the retirement plans of Supreme Court Justice David Souter and laying our [sic] what kind of appointment he would make.

With no advanced warning, even for Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the President took to the podium to read a brief set of prepared remarks. He had just gotten off the phone with Souter, he announced, and wanted to say a few words about the conversation.

Go figure.

This kind of wildly-experimental media strategy could--maybe, possibly, perhaps--go some distance toward explaining Pew Research findings like this:

As he marks his 100th day in office, President Barack Obama has enjoyed substantially more positive media coverage than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush during their first months in the White House, according to a new study of press coverage.

Overall, roughly four out of ten stories, editorials and op-ed columns about Obama have been clearly positive in tone, compared with 22% for Bush and 27% for Clinton in the same mix of seven national media outlets during their first two months in office, according to a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The study found positive stories about Obama have outweighed negative by two-to-one (42% vs. 20%) while 38% of stories have been neutral or mixed.

(Actually I'm a little surprised that Clinton's first-60-day coverage had a higher percentage of positive stories than Dubya's. Bill and Hillary got hostile treatment from the mainstream news media almost from the moment they unpacked--they weren't members of the DC village, they were hicks, so were their cohort from Little Rock, yada yada yada.)

There's no reason to assume the difference in media coverage is directly caused by Obama's more cerebral and grown-up approach to the press corps. The dreadful journalistic practices that have become standard since the halcyon days of the Watergate investigation are like an oil tanker--it takes a long time to turn it around, regardless of the means.

But it is an interesting possibility.

(Hat-tip to Doctor TV.)

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