Obama on 'The View': ratings blockbuster or presidential epitaph?

Daytime talk show has political observers split over whether Obama on 'The View' will help or hurt his image.

Jeffrey Neira/ABC/AP
Barbara Walters and 'The View' co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck are shown during a broadcast of the ABC daytime talk show on July 12. President Obama will visit the show Wendesday, for an episode to air Thursday.

President Barack Obama's chat with the ladies of ABC’s daytime talk show, "The View" – taped Wednesday for air on Thursday – has got more than a few media mavens, brand experts and public relations pros in a tizzy. Depending on your, well, viewpoint, Mr. Obama on "The View" is either committing political suicide, making a master marketing move, or contributing to the decline of western civilization, specifically, the United States.

“This is strictly a brand-management move,” says marketing author Mark Stevens, noting that Obama's decision to snuggle up on the couch with a group of unscripted female hosts is clearly an effort to offset his recent ratings decline. But, he asks, do we really want the leader of the free world “to be selling himself just like Coke, or Pepsi, or Velveeta cheese?”

Beyond that, the risks inherent in an extended, informal face-to-face with such unpredictable hosts as Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg may outweigh any benefits to be gained from the unprecedented strategy, says DePauw University professor Jeff McCall.

Although Obama appeared on "The View" as a US Senator, no sitting president has done so. President and Laura Bush appeared on "Dr. Phil," another daytime talk show, as part of the 2004 campaign.

Such appearances, says Mr. McCall, do carry some risk of having the president let his guard down and saying something casually that doesn't come off well, as happened with his Special Olympics gaffe on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" in 2009.

"Ultimately, I am not sure presidential appearances on daytime chatfests or even late night talk shows help to elevate the national political dialogue, but they clearly show that the boundaries between news media and entertainment media continue to dissolve,” he adds.

The author of a book on the 2008 campaign suggests this is simply the President reverting to form when the going gets tough. “It is not at all surprising that President Obama will appear on "The View," says Gary Kaskowitz via email. Obama’s deeply-emotional appeal helped propel him, says the author of “Brand It Like Barack!"

"More than any other presidential campaign in history, Obama made use of community building activities to win. Because Obama has come under fire recently, with a corresponding dip in his polls and popularity, it is only natural that he would revert to the format that helped get him elected.”

Not all women are sympathetic to the move. Former radio talk show host Antoinette Kuritz says the visit is a bad move. “Being on 'The View' trivializes the President and the office,” she says in an email.

“Does he go on before or after Brittany, Paris, or Lindsay? Or even Julia? Does he sit between Joy and Elizabeth and bait one while pandering to the other?“

While Barbara Walters will return from a medical leave to sit with the President on the set, Ms. Kuritz points out that "The View" is not news – not even soft news. “It is entertainment, “ she says.

“We have access to Obama and what he says and does on Twitter, Yahoo, and Google news, his increasing number of press conferences, in online newspapers, and other sources. Does 'The View' make him even more accessible? Perhaps," she says. But she points out that the audience for 'The View' is the same audience one that listens to NPR, reads newspapers, goes online, and watches cable news channels.

This assessment sells the President short, says public relations professional Debra Caruso via email. Obama will benefit from taking part in a long-form interview that will be highly excerpted on other media, including the Internet and other television programs, she says.

The Commander in Chief will also benefit from the relaxed atmosphere and conversational style of 'The View,' says Ms. Caruso. “President Obama will talk about his kids, his wife, his vacation, and other lifestyle issues, allowing the general public to see his likeable side,” she continues, adding, “That can only help his overall image and popularity.”

This President, she says, is one who communicates very well on a personal level because he lacks a certain stiffness that hinders many politicians. (Al Gore, anyone?).

“Is he sacrificing the dignity of the Office of the President? Yes," she says. "But, the advantages of doing so outweigh the disadvantages. There will always be a contingent that derides the president for whatever he does."


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