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Obama Ducks DC Press for Soft Media

James Hirsen By Monday, 20 August 2012 10:56 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

President Barack Obama has been ducking the Washington press, and the journalists responsible for covering the White House are not amused.

In stark contrast, the president has made himself readily available for a number of entertainment-oriented interviews, and he is evidently making the Hollywood rounds to discuss everything but the all-important issues that are confronting the country.

You have to feel a bit sorry for the D.C. press corps as the typically self-aggrandizing endure the sting of being publicly jilted by Obama and his re-election cohorts.

This year the president has held 9 press conferences. To provide some perspective, at the same point in time prior to his 2004 re-election campaign, President George W. Bush had already held 14 press conferences, according to CBS News.

Since his last encounter with the beltway reporters two months ago, Obama has involved himself in fluff discussions at sit-downs with “Entertainment Tonight,” People magazine, ESPN, and various other local TV and radio stations.

Interviews have focused on pop culture, sports, regional cuisine, and even comic book characters.

Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, made the recent claim on CNN that interviews with “Entertainment Tonight,” People Magazine, and the like are “equally important” as hard news outlets.

“I don't think that they're more important, but I think they're equally important,” Cutter said. “I think that's where a lot of Americans get their news. And I think the president's going to continue doing that.”

The problem is that in frequenting such outlets Obama is able to skirt discussion of the lingering unemployment, rising national debt, staggering economic crises, alarming global conflicts, and the scores of other weighty issues that swirl around the fast-approaching presidential election.

During the historical week in which presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced that Rep. Paul Ryan would be his vice presidential running mate, Obama’s campaign conducted a tour of Iowa.

While managing to avoid serious inquiries from veteran national political reporters, the president took questions from, in Cutter’s assessment, “equally important” venues such as Carlos, Kiki, and Danny on KOB-FM, Big Ken and Colleen on Star 102.5, “Entertainment Tonight,” People magazine, and a handful of local newspapers.

During the call-in interview with the Albuquerque radio station KOB, the president offered some of his favorite Chicago restaurant recommendations, expressed fondness for the Beyonce song “Crazy in Love,” and revealed his favorite workout songs and his ideal super power, i.e., speaking any foreign language, though Obama added that “the whole flying thing is pretty good.”

Politico referred to the Obama campaign’s entertainment-oriented media approach as a “soft-media” strategy, but it is actually far more extensive than that.

By avoiding the White House press corps, Obama is able to steer clear of substantive questions that he and his campaign are apparently determined to avoid, since such topics would bring his record into clear focus.

More importantly, however, is that the Obama re-election team appears to be using tactics for which Hollywood is famous and with which Hollywood is extraordinarily expert — the intricate art of entertainment marketing.

When Hollywood studio executives make plans to market a big-budget movie franchise, their work begins very early in the process. They typically employ a tried-and-true psychological technique, which in academic circles is known as “priming.”

Priming is a method in which exposure to a stimulus influences an individual’s response to a later stimulus. The technique does not involve presenting a potential consumer, or in Obama’s case voter, with pertinent information. Rather, a subtle preconditioning takes place, something that does not appeal to, nor is particularly effective on, persons who are paying close attention, or who lean toward a focus on substance.

Entertainment marketing executives precondition the viewing market by priming the prospective audience with a set of beliefs. For example, an early campaign that established the notion that an upcoming film release had actually occurred in real life was used to make low-budget horror movies such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activities” hugely successful at the box office.

A subtler example of priming occurs in the area of product placement in movies and on television; for instance, the positioning of glasses of Coca-Cola on the desk of “American Idol” judges has been used so as to suggest that the drink is the preferred choice of the celebrities to instill a desire to indulge in the same.

Obama is showcasing himself, and sometimes first lady Michelle alongside him, at venues in which the conveyance of the subtext of the trivial conversations is the objective, rather than the apparent surface messages.

The president and his re-election campaign allies communicate the suggestion that Obama is an amiable individual who has the same likes and dislikes, opinions, and concerns about family, food, music, sports, etc., as the average ordinary guy.

People tend to become fans of those whom they personally like. They tend to buy things from salespersons they like. And yes, they cast their votes for people whom they like, even though factual information may tell them otherwise.

The Obama pump is repeatedly being primed and has been for a while. In the meantime, media appearances of presidential surrogates and negative advertising on the airwaves are hard at work simultaneously demonizing the opposition, a negative priming of Obama’s opponents, if you will.

Conventional political wisdom has suggested that people do not pay attention to the November election until after Labor Day. This can lead to a false sense of security that there is somehow plenty of time remaining to counter the understated media assault.

It is just not true this time around. In fact, it is precisely because people have not been paying full attention that priming is working on at least a portion of the voting public.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.

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Monday, 20 August 2012 10:56 AM
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