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Got spin? Elections always have lots of it. Vox News tracks what media outlets contribute to the cycle, from funny guys Leno and Letterman to commentators Limbaugh and Maher to, yes, the good ol' news anchors and commentators of the MSM.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama, shown in these photos, have both steered toward 'friendlier' television shows to a level unprecedented in a presidential campaign. (Charles Dharapak/AP, Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Why Obama, Romney gravitate to '60 Minutes' and 'The View' (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.24.12

It wasn't that long ago that candidate Bill Clinton's appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show" set pundits' tongues to wagging. Stepping outside the confines of press conferences and serious news programs was considered risky, possibly trivializing the aspirant to the office of the presidency. Suffice it to say that such qualms, if any had lingered, have been definitively laid to rest during the 2012 election, a campaign during which President Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney have tapped such "free media" – of both the hard and soft varieties – at unprecedented levels. 

The most recent exhibit came Sunday night, when "60 Minutes," the long-running CBS news show, aired back-to-back interviews with Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. Next, both the president and first lady Michelle Obama will show up on the daytime talk show “The View” on Tuesday.

Romney, meanwhile, has promised to sit on the sofas of the “sharp-tongued” women, as he dubbed them, in October. And, of course, appearances with the late-night denizens, David Letterman and Jay Leno, continue, with both the candidates and their wives showing up there with regularity. Mrs. Obama read Mr. Letterman’s Top Ten List heading into the Democratic National Convention. Romney has been on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" four times, and his wife, Ann, is set to chat with Mr. Leno Tuesday night.

What gives? It's not as if the campaigns, which are rolling in dough, can't afford to buy airtime. Some two-thirds of a billion dollars have already been spent on TV ads, according to the National Journal. 

No, such media appearances serve the interests of today's candidates in many ways – and can actually build audience trust amid a climate in which, according to a new Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans don't trust media coverage in general.

“People tend to trust the media they choose,” whether it’s blogs or social media or a favorite daytime talk show, says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. By appearing on someone's favorite show, a candidate helps to bridge that trust gap, she says. 

Bill Rosenberg, a political science professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, agrees: "The question is not so much resources, which there seems to be plenty of now, but source credibility." Increasingly, people turn to the media outlets they personally trust, so the candidates try to use those avenues to deliver that credibility to those audiences, he adds. 

With today's media proliferation, candidates feel a greater burden than ever to cover all the outlets that prospective voters might tap.

There are a lot more of them now than when John Kennedy appeared on "The Tonight Show" during his 1960 presidential campaign. Savvy candidates have long understood how entertainment programs can humanize them and help them reach an audience that may not be tuned into politics, notes Villanova University political scientist Matthew Kerbel, author of “Netroots: Online Progressives and the Transformation of American Politics.” With the advent of social media, he adds via e-mail, “this strategy has evolved to include a presence for candidates on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and around the political blogosphere, enabling them to reach targeted populations and craft a message on their own terms.”

Then there's also the softball factor.

The president’s campaign seems to like free media because "it’s friendlier" than traditional news interviews, says Ben Bogardus, assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. “ 'The View,' 'David Letterman,' 'Entertainment Tonight' and other entertainment programs generally ask softball questions, and let the president show off his personality, which is his strength," he adds via e-mail.

While president, Obama has also done many interviews with local TV stations from swing states, notes Professor Bogardus. By inviting the local reporters to the White House, the president gives the home stations something to promote and talk about “for days.” This also leads to positive coverage because the stations don’t use the time to criticize the president, he adds. In a way, he notes, the stations are “star-struck by the opportunity they rarely get.”

For Romney, free media coverage marks a change from the stock and trade of the campaign trail: the 30-second ad spot or the 10-second news clip of his stump speech. Appearances on "60 Minutes" or daytime talk shows also can allow him to push a particular message, says Bogardus. Those interviews also boost the chance that he’ll get a sound bite on the air, he adds, because reporters bored by the standard speech would be attracted to the “new sound.” 

It helps voters to see the candidates interviewed by a serious journalist like Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes," says Jeff McCall, a communication professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind, in an e-mail. “[i]t hurts voters, however, when candidates are on soft venues like 'Letterman.' "

"The candidates like those shows because they can act all personable and chat up pop culture topics with interviewers who won't challenge them," he says. "This hurts voters because it gives a false sense of what is important on the political agenda.” 

Seated with talk show host David Letterman, U.S. President Barack Obama makes an appearance on the 'Late Show with David Letterman' at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, Tuesday. (Kevin Lamarque)

Obama on 'Letterman': What were the funniest bits?

By Staff writer / 09.19.12

When did David Letterman turn into Bob Woodward’s thinner, more sardonic brother?

That was our first reaction after tuning in to watch President Obama’s appearance on Letterman’s “Late Show” Tuesday night. It’s not just appearance we’re talking about, although the CBS talk-show host really does resemble the world-famous journalist, if you squint. It was also tone. The president took up the whole hour of Mr. Letterman’s show, and most of the questions, while respectful, weren’t jokey. It was sort of like entering a comedy club and finding a think tank seminar inside.

Yes, there were funny bits. Asked if it was tough to have teen daughters, Mr. Obama said, “it worries me, but they’re surrounded by men with guns." Talking of being lifted bodily into the air by a Florida pizza shop owner, Obama opined that “I think he fixed something in my back."

Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, the sharpest barbs were aimed at him, via a video prepared by Letterman’s staff. It was a portion of the now-famous fund-raising secret tape, overdubbed with ridiculous comments. “I have a feeling Canada is planning something,” said the faux Romney at one point. “My new cologne is now available at Macy’s," he says, a bit later. “It’s Mittstified!”

Letterman asked Obama about his reaction to the tape, of course. (We mean the original address to donors, not the doctored version.) He gave an answer that might have Romney aides groaning, in that it was a velvet-gloved jab.

“When I won in 2008, 47 percent of the American people voted for John McCain, they didn’t vote for me. What I said on election night was even though you didn’t vote for me I hear your voices and I’m going to work as hard as I can to be your president.”

Letterman also pushed Obama pretty hard on the budget deficit. The comedian mentioned the ever-ticking debt clock featured at the Republican National Convention and said that the mounting numbers looked pretty scary.

Obama answered with a fairly detailed reply about how the debt came to accumulate, involving wars, tax cuts, a recession, and so forth. We think he moved pretty fast past the part his stimulus packages played in running up the red ink, but he at least mentioned them. The deficit isn’t a problem in the short term, he said, but in the long term and, maybe, the medium term as well.

“I don’t remember what the number was precisely,” he said, when Letterman asked what the deficit figure actually is.

The president made a pitch for bipartisanship, and said he hoped there would be more of it in a second term if he’s reelected. He said that the military is not the face of the US in the Middle East, especially in Libya and Egypt, and that the US remains an indispensable nation for much of the world. As he often does, he pressed for a tax increase on the wealthy as part of a future deficit-reduction plan.

At one point Letterman asked him the difference between running for office the first time and as an incumbent.

“The plane is nicer now,” Obama said.

Overall, the appearance shows, once again, why politicians increasingly pick nontraditional media venues over sparring with the Washington press corps. Obama got to make his policy case in a relaxed, controlled setting without surprises or truly tough questions. (We wish Letterman had asked whether US drone strikes contribute to Middle East unrest, for instance.)

Ironically, on his secret fund-raiser video Romney complains about Letterman, saying that since he (Romney) has appeared more often on Jan Leno’s “Tonight Show," Letterman is jealous.

“Now Letterman hates me because I’ve been on Leno more than him,” said Romney.

But Romney’s campaign knows well of the talk-show campaign imperative. The ex-Massachusetts governor is now scheduled to appear on “The View” in October, even though on the fundraising video he called it a “high-risk” show because most of its female hosts are liberals.

This undated image provided by Rocky Mountain Pictures, shows an undated film clip from "2016: Obama's America". (AP Photo/Rocky Mountain Pictures)

'2016: Obama's America' – Will political documentary sway undecided voters? (+video)

By Staff writer / 08.27.12

August may be the laziest month for Hollywood blockbusters, but it has become open season for little-films-that-can. And this year is no exception, with the political documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” pulling in more than $9 million to become the top grossing non-nature documentary of the year.

The film, from conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, which began playing in theaters nationwide this past weekend and has gone viral online, is a slow – and selective – trip through Obama’s backstory. It leads viewers to the narrator’s conclusion that the president’s goals are to realize his Kenyan father’s anti-imperialist dreams.

The documentary is currently screening in Tampa hotels hosting guests at the Republican National Convention, where its themes have been warmly embraced.

But the real question is, at this late date, will such a film make a difference in an election that by most accounts will be determined by a razor-thin margin of voters who have yet to make up their minds?

The film most likely will not sway many independent voters directly, says David Mark, editor in chief of Politix, an online and mobile site for citizen’s input, and author of “Going Dirty: the Art of Negative Campaigning.” But, says Mr. Mark, a former senior editor of POLITICO, where the film might have an impact is in the nitty-gritty of an election.

“It could energize the base into all the kinds of things that can turn out voters, like walking the precinct, manning phone banks, and all the kinds of volunteer stuff that juices up supporters,” he points out.

Soon-to-be Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be the most likely to benefit, adds Mark, who says the film has been a hot topic on conservative talk radio, where hosts have been urging supporters to go see the film. “Everyone likes to say they don’t want negative campaigning and movies like this, but the truth is that the reason we continue to have it is because it works,” he says, adding, “negativity gets people to participate.”

The surprise success of the film suggests it is part of a “new normal” in US politics, says John Johannes, a professor of political science at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

Filmmaker Michael Moore “probably should be credited (or blamed) with advancing this type of political advertising, an effort to add a veneer of respectability and authority to coat anti-candidate politics,” Professor Johannes says via e-mail. This type of politicking is more likely to appeal to those already committed for or against Obama, he notes, adding that he would be surprised if this movie changed any minds.

“It is, however, yet another indicator of what is happening to American politics,” he says: “Trying to pin down candidates for their backgrounds more than their policies; a focus on personalities more than issues; and a play to anger and fear rather than to thoughtfulness and judgment.”

But some say this film suggests otherwise – that this election may actually hinge on more than negativity, says journalist John Graves, editor of The Retirement Journal and author of “The 7% Solution.”

Mr. Graves says he and his wife went to the film over the weekend.

“The film itself was instructive for its view from outside the inner workings of the US politic,” he says via e-mail, adding that it was valuable to witness what he dubs “the raw exploitation of power by a man who knows himself and his destiny very well.” Beyond that, he says, “if the issues as described in the film are also descriptive of the ‘whole piece’ landscape, it will be a metaphysical election (one guided by principles).”

The film’s power may also be a harbinger of things to come, points out April Masini, online advice expert at askapril.com.

She says a large part of the audience will be already-decided Republican voters, those “who want verification that they're doing the right thing, and something to talk about among themselves.” But the valuable audience, she points out, will be those undecided voters who can make or break a popular vote in a close race.

But she adds, “The anti-Obama documentary will also be a measure of how important films and documentaries are to swinging a vote in the age of fast technology like Twitter, e-mail and tabloid news. If this documentary is perceived as being effective, buckle up for more politicians in Hollywood.” 

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This image, created by journalist Gary He, pokes fun at CNN's misreporting of the Supreme Court's ruling on Obama's health care act. (Image courtesy of Gary He)

With media flub, Obama gets 'Dewey defeats Truman' moment with health care

By Staff writer / 06.28.12

It’s an instant meme – the “Dewey defeats Truman” of 2012.

When CNN and Fox News initially misreported that the US Supreme Court had struck down the so-called individual mandate in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act – the central pillar of the law – a guy named Gary He went to work.

Mr. He, product director at Insider Images, per The New York Times, superimposed Mr. Obama’s face on the famous shot of President Truman holding up the Chicago Tribune from Nov. 3, 1948, and He posted the image on his Twitter feed. The Tribune had initially, and wrongly, reported that New York Gov. Thomas Dewey (R) had defeated Mr. Truman, based on a bad hunch by the paper’s political analyst.

The foul-up by CNN and Fox happened for a different reason. According to the Times, both news outlets had come to the point in Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion declaring that the mandate was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, and then ran with it. In fact, the court had also ruled that the penalty for failing to buy insurance was a tax, and therefore the mandate survived.

Thus, Obama is the new Truman. And in the 2012 version, he is holding up a tablet showing the CNN home page declaring, “Mandate struck down.”

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In this April 2 file photo, then Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks in Shawano, Wis. The ex-presidential candidate told Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show' Tuesday night, the endorsement for Romney was 'kind of buried,' as Leno put it, in the e-mail to supporters. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Rick Santorum tells Jay Leno why Romney endorsement was 'buried' (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.09.12

Rick Santorum had a reason for endorsing Mitt Romney late at night, in the 13th paragraph of an e-mail to supporters.

“We decided to put it out late at night so it would be sort of the first thing people would see in the morning,” the ex-presidential candidate told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” Tuesday night. The endorsement had gone out at 11 o'clock the night before.

Besides, Mr. Santorum joked, it wasn’t really all that late. “We have seven kids so we don’t sleep,” laughed the former Pennsylvania senator, wearing his trademark sweater vest. (He gave Mr. Leno one, too.)  

Why was the endorsement “kind of buried,” as Leno put it, in the e-mail to supporters? Because, in essence, the message was about him, not Mr. Romney.

“This was a letter to my supporters – who were for me – to say, ‘Well, here’s now why I think we should rally around Mitt Romney and support him,’ " Santorum said.

Leno reminded Santorum that he had once called Romney “the worst Republican” to take on President Obama. Santorum said he was referring specifically to “Obamacare,” the health-care reform based on Romney’s fix of the Massachusetts system when he was governor. Leno defended “Romneycare,” saying people in his native state seemed happy with it – and asked Santorum how he’d feel if all the states put in place similar reforms, given conservative support for states’ rights.

Santorum: “Can you imagine what ‘The Tonight Show’ would look like if the government ran ‘The Tonight Show’?”

Leno: “I see what it looks like with NBC running it!”

Leno also asked why Republicans, known for promoting strong defense and fiscal policy, now focus so much on cultural issues, which he called “diversions.”

“It’s the culture, it’s not the economy,” Santorum said. “The culture matters. Look at every great civilization. They don’t fail because a foreign power overtakes them. Oh, ultimately a foreign power destroys them, but they were all destroyed before the foreign power took them over. They were falling, they were failing as a culture.”

“The economy – yeah, it’s important,” he added. “But the culture is what holds people together.”

Perhaps this was a hint at Santorum’s next step? In his e-mail to supporters, he had promised a “big announcement” soon – one that will involve asking them “to once again join forces with me to keep up the fight, together.”

Santorum is best known as a culture warrior. The socially liberal Leno peppered him with questions about gay adoption and teen contraception. Santorum happily stood his ground. But he made clear he doesn’t think the government should ban all things he personally believes are wrong, such as contraception and smoking.

“So a gay couple smoking with a contraceptive would be the worst thing,” Leno quipped.

“Heaven forbid!” Santorum laughed.

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News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch appears at Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry in London last week to answer questions under oath about how much he knew about phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid. (AP)

Rupert Murdoch deemed 'not fit' to lead media in Britain. What about US?

By Ron SchererStaff writer / 05.03.12

In order to run a television network, a company needs a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), since the airwaves are still considered a part of the public trust.

News Corporation, the owner of Fox Broadcasting, is now coming under the microscope over whether or not the FCC should look more closely at it in the wake of its phone-hacking scandal in Britain. This week, a British parliamentary committee, in a politically divided decision, said that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

On May 1, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to immediately revoke the 27 Fox licenses on the grounds that broadcast laws can only be used by people of good “character” who will serve “the public interest” with “candor.” At the same time, a US senator has also written to the judge heading up a parallel judicial investigation in Britain to ask if there is any evidence any News Corp. units violated US laws.

However, communications law experts say it is highly unlikely the FCC will step in unless evidence surfaces that Mr. Murdoch’s communications empire was doing phone hacking in the US.

"Whatever happens in Britain, stays in Britain,” says Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman. “The implications of anything happening in the US to Fox and its TV licenses are between slim to none.”

Mr. Hundt, who was appointed to the FCC by President Clinton, says that all of News Corp.’s indiscretions took place in another country some time ago. “There is no evidence of ongoing activities,” he says.

Dallas communications lawyer Evan Fogelman says that the most that might happen is a “perfunctory” look at the News Corp activities, adding, “I would be surprised if there was a licensing issue in the US."

To generate FCC interest, he says would require some revelations that a US subsidiary of News Corp. was hacking into individuals’ private phones, as was done in Britain.

CREW says it's not impossible that phone hacking took place in the US. According to CREW’s letter to the FCC, there were news reports that News of the World – shuttered by Mr. Murdoch as the scandal broke – tried to hack into the voice mails of 9/11 victims.

In an interview, Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, says she understands the FBI is looking into the issue at the request of Rep. Peter King (R) of New York. “It’s not like it’s impossible,” she says, pointing out that News of the World employees hacked into the cellphone of murder victim 13-year-old Milly Dowler in Britain, as well as the phones of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

Ms. Sloan says the inquiry in Britain also found that News Corp. journalists had allegedly bribed police officers to get information. This could be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which bars US companies from bribing foreign officials.

“They likely were violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” she alleges.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia sent a letter to Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is leading the special judicial investigation into phone hacking and other alleged illegal activities by News Corp. in Britain, asking if there is any new information suggesting illegal conduct in the US. Senator Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over communications issues in the US.

Responding to criticism that the watchdog group took on Fox because of its conservative politics, Sloan said: “Those are commentators on the air, and they have different standards,” says Sloan. “This has nothing to do with content, only the character of Rupert and James Murdoch.”

Jack Horner, a spokesman for News Corp., says the company has no comment.

Immediately after the release of the parliamentary committee report on Tuesday, News Corp. said it acknowledged “significant wrongdoing” at News of the World and apologized to people whose privacy had been invaded. The company has been making private financial settlements with some of the victims.

On Wednesday, the News Corp. Board of Directors announced its “full confidence” in Murdoch’s fitness and unanimously issued support for him.

According to a letter sent by Sloan, federal courts have upheld the FCC’s consideration of character in making license determination as reasonable and appropriate. “The FCC may consider an applicant’s past conduct, including non-broadcast conduct, as a guide to how the applicant is likely to operate a broadcast station in the future,” wrote Sloan. “In looking at misconduct, the FCC must consider whether misconduct is isolated or represents a pattern of misbehavior, as well as how recently it occurred.”

The FCC has rarely acted to remove a company’s broadcast license. In the 1980s, the FCC began a long process to strip RKO of its broadcast licenses for lack of candor. In 1987, an administrative law judge ruled that RKO was unfit to hold its licenses because of a long history of deceptive practices. RKO eventually sold its broadcast unit.

“It’s rare for the FCC to act on these cases, but this seems to be the case they should act on,” says Sloan.

An FCC spokesman, Neil Derek Grace, said the agency would have no comment.

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President Obama talks with Jimmy Fallon during a commercial break as he participates in a taping of the Jimmy Fallon Show, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Carolyn Kaster/aP)

Backlash begins after Obama slow jams the news (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.26.12

President Obama got a lot of attention for slow jamming the news on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” Tuesday night. About 2 million people watched the show, during which Mr. Obama talked about the need to keep student-loan rates low over a beat laid down by house band The Roots.

That’s what slow jamming the news is: It’s kind of a combination of a Barry White song and a "PBS NewsHour" report. Mr. Fallon does this from time to time, though he’s never had the chance to do it with Obama, whom he referred to as “the Preezi of the United Steezi,” the Barack Ness Monster,” and “the POTUS with the mostest."

Well, not everyone enjoyed the bit. Two days on, the backlash is in full swing, with many Republicans grousing about the Fallon episode and complaining that Obama is just trying to distract Americans from his policy failures.

Rush Limbaugh, for one, said the whole thing wasn’t humorous.

Slow jamming the news “is supposed to be wildly funny if you have a low threshold for humor," Mr. Limbaugh said Wednesday on his show. "It’s also funny if you smoke certain controlled substances."

Conservative talk-show host Ann Coulter seconded Limbaugh during a Wednesday-night appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, saying Obama’s performance was “pretty pathetic” and an attempt to overshadow news coverage of scandals at the General Services Administration and the Secret Service.

“This whole week has been a government employee failure,” said Ms. Coulter.

Other right-leaning commentators noted that the subtext of Obama's appearance seemed to be an attempt to portray him as cool and hip, as opposed to Mitt Romney’s more stiff personality. The best way for the GOP to counteract this, they said, might be to embrace it and flip it around: Do you want a president who is hip or a president who is effective?

“The coolness issue is a trap for Obama, I’d suggest.... Not even actually cool people want a cool incompetent as president,” wrote conservative Jennifer Rubin on her Right Turn blog in The Washington Post.

The Republican National Committee, for its part, has already produced a two-minute Web ad titled “A Tale of Two Leaders.” It jumps from clips of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney making a speech to clips of Obama slow jamming, in an attempt to portray the former as more serious than the latter.

The ad ends by inviting viewers to tweet anti-Obama thoughts using the hashtag #NotFunny.

While Obama’s political opponents criticized the slow jam, so did one of Fallon’s ratings opponents. Funnyman Jon Stewart noted on "The Daily Show” that Obama at this point does not have to lower himself to connect with voters.

“Mr. President, you’re the president! You don’t have to do this [bleeped expletive] anymore. Although we’d love to have you back on the show,” said Mr. Stewart.

RECOMMENDED: Stephen Colbert and laughable politics 

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President Obama laughs with Jimmy Fallon during a commercial break as he participates in a taping of the 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,' Tuesday, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama on Jimmy Fallon show: How did it go? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.25.12

President Obama was on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on Tuesday. OK, OK, technically it was Wednesday in Washington, as NBC broadcasts the show at 12:35 a.m. Eastern time. Anyway, the appearance seems to have worked up quite a bit of buzz among the blognoscenti and twitterati. How did things go?

We’d say the president’s political advisers think it went pretty well. Mr. Obama is making a big push this week to get Congress to act to prevent an automatic rise in student loan interest rates, and the Fallon show gave him a stage upon which to make that point with great emphasis. Let’s hope that for the sake of his blood pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R) was already asleep.

First off, there was the slow jam of the news. If you haven’t heard about this, it’s a recurring Fallon bit in which he and a guest talk/croon about a serious topic over a beat laid down by house band The Roots

A Fallon slow jam resembles a mashup of a Barry White song and a Brian Williams special report. The Obama version was hilarious and partisan at the same time, allowing the president to poke at congressional Republicans for refusing to tax billionaires to help pay for cheaper student loans.

“Their position is that students just have to make this rate increase work. Frankly, I’m not buying it,” said Obama over the beat.

Then Fallon responded with “Ummm, umm, umm, the Barack Ness Monster ain’t buyin’ it.”

Just watch it – it’s funnier than it seems in print. Our favorite line was, “If Congress don’t act, it’s the students who pay, the right and left should join on this like Kim and Kanye.”

During their sit-down interview, Fallon also gave Obama plenty of time to go on about the importance of education to the young, and how the US needs to support it, and so on. Obama mentioned to the crowd the hashtag they could use in tweets if they supported him on the issue – #don’tdoublemyrates.

Fallon insisted that on his show they’re not political or partisan, but he did not challenge Obama on the student loan thing. Yes, it was a college crowd. But he could have asked whether kids at Ivy League schools should get cheap student loans – that would have gone down well with the University of North Carolina state school audience.

As to other stuff, Obama said people send him Web links to dancing bears and cute cats. It’s good to know that even presidents have friends eager to waste their time. Also, one of his favorite movies is “Groundhog Day,” which, Obama acknowledged, came out before many students in the crowd were born.

Also, Obama said he and Mitt Romney are not friends, but he did not appear to mean that in a bad way. He said because Romney had been a governor, their paths hadn’t crossed much in the course of political business, whereas he’d gotten to know last opponent John McCain in the Senate.

Also, Obama said Romney’s “wife is lovely,” though that reference almost got swallowed up in crowd noise.

RECOMMENDED: Stephen Colbert and laughable politics 

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Republican presidential candidates verbally gang-tackle President Obama during a presidential debate in Mesa, Ariz., earlier this year. (Jae C. Hong/AP/File)

Media report card: why Mitt Romney got more positive coverage than Obama

By Staff writer / 04.23.12

A media report card from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released Monday included a few surprises, as well as a message about the pervasiveness of the media and their power in shaping the public’s perception of the political process.

The Project analyzed the tone and volume of candidate coverage from Jan. 2 through April 15 focusing on 52 key news outlets, but also using computers to track coverage in more than 11,000 news outlets. The team also looked at campaign stories from November through April 15.

That window, however, turned out to be too short. “One of the most remarkable and perhaps depressing things about modern political coverage is how early it starts,” says PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. As early as August 2011, “We were seeing almost weekly polling.”

On one hand, that shows a media industry engaged in the political process. But the sheer volume and constancy of the reporting is turning politics into a form of white noise for many Americans, says Charles Dunn, a political scientist at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. 

“People are exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of information,” especially at such early stages of the game, he says. By the time the actual election rolls around in November, many average Americans just want it to be over, he says, “and this does not bode well for the body politic where we need more not less engagement by the voters.”

On the upside, the type of media campaign coverage saw a positive change from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, some 80 percent of the media coverage was devoted to the primary horse races, but that number shrank to some 64 percent in this cycle, says Mr. Rosenstiel.

"There was a perception back in 2008 that there was not that much difference between the Democratic candidates," he says. In this race, there was much more media effort devoted to defining the various candidates based on their stands on certain issues. For Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, for example, the media examined his health-care position, as well as “whether or not he is a true conservative,” Rosenstiel says.

The report also charted the character of coverage of the candidates. Coverage of President Obama was far more negative than the coverage of Mr. Romney, for whom the tone was more mixed, says Rosenstiel.

"There is a certain logic to the math in this,” he says, noting that all the Republican candidates focused much of their fire on Mr. Obama. “If you have some seven different individuals all getting coverage from the media, all framing their arguments negatively against the president," that will inevitably create an imbalance.

"President Obama only has a single voice to counter that flood of critiques," he adds.

Other key observations include:

  • Romney’s personal life and public record were vetted more than any candidate – constituting some 12 percent of his coverage, with Newt Gingrich nearly tied. The focus on Romney’s life centered on his personal wealth and his career at the private equity investment firm Bain Capital, while Mr. Gingrich gathered much attention for his marital history and financial dealings.
  • Rick Santorum, who emerged as Romney’s chief rival, never received sustained positive press. He had three brief periods in which his coverage was more positive than negative – following his strong showing in Iowa; his victories in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota; and the week of his win in Louisiana.
  • Gingrich had only one week during the primary season in which he enjoyed significantly more positive press coverage than negative. That was the week of his victory in South Carolina on Jan. 21.
  • In 11 of 15 weeks studied, Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas received more positive coverage than negative – but he received less coverage than other candidates. Congressman Paul received about one-eighth as much coverage as Romney and about one-quarter as much as Mr. Santorum and Gingrich.

What this report spotlights is the punch of the permanent news cycle, says Villanova University political scientist Matt Kerbel. "This becomes important because the way the press frames the ongoing story has very much to do with what people think the election is about."

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The Fox Mole posted video outtakes, never before aired, of Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity (shown here in a file photo). (Douglas C. Pizac/AP/File)

'Fox Mole' ousted: Whistle-blowing hero or disloyal self-promoter?

By Staff writer / 04.12.12

As of Tuesday Joe Muto was newly enshrined as the "Fox Mole," an employee inside the right-leaning news network who was tattling in public about the alleged failings of his employer. 

 The next day he had lost his job while winning some fame, being threatened with a lawsuit by Fox, and dangling the prospect that he has "much, much more" to say.

 Mr. Muto, who until Wednesday was an associate producer at Fox News, adopted the "Fox Mole" persona on the news website Gawker. In blog posts that sometimes included video footage of anchors like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, he echoed views that have long been voiced by critics from the outside: That it is biased against President Obama (and Democrats) and that its coverage is anything but "fair and balanced."

Is he a whistleblowing hero, a disloyal self-promoter, or something in between? 

 The answer may be in the eye of the beholder, but he's certainly a cautionary tale of the 21st century workplace, where digital technology intersects with a tweet-your-life culture of public expression. Corporations, for their part, want to guard their reputations and their secrets as much as ever, even as they often embrace the idea of workers who also blog on the side.

 Muto joins other US workers who have made high-profile job exits that included public complaints. In March, a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith, announced his own sudden departure in a New York Times column arguing that the investment bank has lost its moral compass. In 2010, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater made headlines when he voiced frustrations with his job over the public-address system before exiting down the airplane's emergency chute. (That came after passengers preparing to walk off a flight had an altercation about an overhead bin.)

 The gesture by Mr. Smith of Goldman Sachs prompted some workplace experts to warn American workers: You may not want to do that yourself, even in an era when people are used to posting their blunt reviews of restaurants and books online.

 “For most workers, it is best to exit quietly and not burn any bridges," outplacement expert John Challenger said in a statement in March. "New employers may need to contact your former boss for references, and loose talk may be the difference between a new job and continued unemployment. Even a rant about a former employer on Facebook can become an obstacle to new employment.”

 Muto, in his first article as the Fox Mole, said he had never intended his job at Fox to be a long one. 

 "The plan was simple: get hired, keep my head down and my views to myself, work for a few months, build my résumé, then eventually hop to a new job that didn't make me cringe every morning when I looked in the mirror," he wrote.

He joined Fox in 2004. He said he settled into life at Fox after numerous efforts to find other jobs failed.

In his first blog as Fox Mole, Muto labeled his employer's website as the "seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire." He singled out one post on the site, illustrated with pictures of black celebrities who visited with the president on his 50th birthday last August, under the headline "Obama's Hip Hop BBQ Didn't Create Jobs."

"The post neatly summed up everything that had been troubling me about my employer: Non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on the president; gleeful race baiting; a willful disregard for facts; and so on," Muto wrote. The partygoers also included many Washington politicians and White House staffers, he said.

Muto's posts included a two-minute video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's off-air banter in an interview with Mr. Hannity.

"I think Mitt loses points with the GOP base for his correct pronunciation of dressage," Muto posted.

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox and Muto engaged in an unusual game of cat and mouse. A representative told website Mediaite.com that the TV network had identified the person and was exploring its legal options, but Muto taunted Fox with another post saying, "I Am the Fox Mole, And I'm Still Here."

That changed late on Wednesday, Muto wrote, when he was ushered into a Fox attorney's office and "suspended indefinitely ... with pay, oddly enough." That posting was made before Fox confirmed that Muto would be fired.

Reuters wire material was used in this report.

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