Obama turns to '60 Minutes.' Who is he trying to reach now?

President Obama's postelection media strategy seems to pull back from the edgy with an appearance on the tried-and-true '60 Minutes.' Some say the move makes sense.

By , Staff writer

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    A preview of President Obama's full interview sneaked onto CBS's 'Early Show' Friday, and the full chat will run Sunday night.
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President Obama’s post-“shellacking” media strategy is a far cry from the new-media crawl he undertook in the last weeks of the mid-term election cycle.

Rather than popping onto yet another morning radio talk show or hanging out with one more comedian, the commander-in-chief is turning to the tried and true, taping a sit-down, one-on-one interview with “60 Minutes” veteran Steve Kroft.

A preview of Mr. Obama’s full interview sneaked onto CBS’s “Early Show” Friday, and the full chat will run Sunday night.

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So, what gives? Is he stiff-arming the younger demographic he so yearned to rouse with his walk on the Facebook/Twitter side? Or is he just taking what has been the presidential media path of choice for some four decades?

Gold standard

“This is the gold standard of TV journalism,” says author Ari Berman (“Herding Donkeys”). It makes sense for Obama to turn to an outlet with the reach and gravitas of the longest-running news magazine on the air, he says, noting that the hard news format still garners strong ratings, despite its longevity.

So, Mr. Berman adds, in an effort to reach out to the widest swath of the American public in the wake of his party’s trouncing, this avenue makes much more sense than the small, niche outlets he was tapping in the waning days of the election.

Beyond the prestigious imprimatur bestowed by the valuable Sunday night real estate, Mr. Kroft is a natural choice for the president, says Edward Klein, co-author of the satiric novel, “The Obama Identity.”

“It is hardly coincidental that the first person he chose for a sit-down interview after the drubbing his party took at the polls was Steve Kroft because Steve had been very close to the Obama campaign during the primaries and the general election,” he says, adding that given their history, the president could expect a “friendly interlocutor” on the show.

In the interview, the president tells Kroft that his mistake in office has been a failure to lead as well as legislate, and that his real problem has not been his policies but “making an argument that people can understand.”

Emphasizing leadership is indeed an important executive function of the US president, says Ernests Del Buono, vice president of crisis and litigation at Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. “The American public does not want to hear the nation’s leader drilling down deep into the way things actually work in Washington,” he says, adding that the vast majority of viewers want to know why the policies are good for the country and how they will affect their lives.

Is the move too late?

But more than a few observers suggest that all this media hopping betrays a deeper problem behind the scenes of the Obama White House.

Hitting the staid “60 Minutes” audience after the election is just another example of what political consultant Rodric Bradford calls just plain backwards.

“This is exactly the demographic he should have been reaching out to before the election,” Mr. Bradford says, “not all those recent college grads who are now living at home, can’t get a job, and don’t care about the elections.” Rather, he points out, he should have been courting those voters who typically turn out for mid-term elections ­– namely the middle-aged, middle-America audience that also tunes into broadcast television news.

The president’s problems run deeper than a mere failure to communicate, Bradford says, noting that the choice of media is not as big a problem as the president’s approach. “He needs to let people know that they could sit down and have a beer with him,” he says, though not in something like that strictly-for-the-cameras beer summit last year.

“People sniff out something that is not authentic,” he says, and “that was not.”

But all this Monday-morning quarterbacking overlooks the historic challenges Obama faced when he took office, says Bruce Buchanan, professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin, who specializes in presidential politics. Obama, he says, inherited the biggest problems since the Depression, including two active wars.

“In retrospect this will look like business as usual,” he says, adding that all the media hopping is a natural extension of the innovative use of new media that Obama pursued during his campaign. He notes that two previous presidents to fall so far in the midterm – Reagan and Clinton – both went on to reelection. “Frankly,” he says, “I don’t see this as a failed project at all.”

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