Obama Turns To Local Media To Promote Reelection Message

NEW YORK -- One afternoon in July, President Barack Obama sat down for eight interviews with local TV anchors -- the same number he's had with the national media all year.

They say all politics is local. And in running for reelection, Obama has taken that political maxim to heart by speaking more with journalists who are outside the Beltway and whose states' electoral votes matter most this November.

In 2012, Obama has done 58 local media interviews and eight national media interviews, according to information provided by CBS News' Mark Knoller, the White House press corps' "unofficial keeper of presidential data." More than half of those local interviews were with journalists located in swing states.

For instance, Obama met that July afternoon with anchors from New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa and Wisconsin. He spoke to different anchors from Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin a month earlier, as well as anchors from Virginia and Colorado.

In addition to news interviews, Obama could be found last Thursday calling into a Columbus, Ohio, sports radio show, talking for eight minutes on the '92 Dream Team versus the current men's Olympic basketball team, the White Sox and Cubs, the Penn State scandal, the Jets' quarterback situation and, of course, Ohio State football.

Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University professor who studies the relationship between the White House and the press, said Obama focused more on national media interviews (96) than local interviews (17) during his first year in office. "What you're doing at the beginning is introducing yourself and you need a national audience to do that," Kumar said.

But Obama doesn't need cable and broadcast networks to introduce himself to the public anymore. Now, when he sits down for a major TV interview, it's typically to discuss a specific topic, such as the anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden (with NBC's Brian Williams) or to endorse same-sex marriage (with ABC's Robin Roberts).

When asked about the reelection campaign's media strategy, Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt said that "it's no secret that Americans are getting their information from a more diffuse body of media sources, and we always work to ensure that we’re reaching them where they’re getting their information."

"Some of those means are traditional -- like national and regional drivetime radio, or interviews with networks and their affiliates across the country -- the President has done interviews at almost every campaign stop," LaBolt continued, in an email to The Huffington Post. "The President has sat down with reporters from major publications and the major networks and outlined his case for reelection and will continue to do so.

"But it’s also important for us to engage digital and social media platforms, from online chats to blogger conferences (like his appearance at the BlogHer conference this week), and platforms accessed by growing constituencies to reach as many Americans as possible."

While any sophisticated campaign media operation needs to engage across media platforms, both Democratic and Republican strategists told The Huffington Post that local media can be especially beneficial as the election nears.

"Local media is much better strategically," said Mark McKinnon, global vice chair of Hill + Knowlton Strategies and chief media adviser for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

"Because they are generally so thrilled to have the access, local media [is] more likely to ask friendlier and easier questions," McKinnon continued via email. "Much better chance of controlling your message. Bottom line, you can usually drive local media like a truck."

Paul Begala, a former Clinton White House adviser, CNN analyst and media consultant for pro-Obama Super Pac Priorities USA Action, said he endorses a strategy with increased local media outreach, but with one tweak. "They have to put him on the Sunday shows more," Begala said.

Obama hasn't appeared on any of the four Sunday morning public affairs shows -- NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation" and CNN's "State of the Union" -- since Sept. 20, 2009, when he argued for health care reform. The president hasn’t appeared on "Fox News Sunday" since the 2008 campaign (and only after host Chris Wallace started a weekly "Obama Watch" segment).

Begala said the lengthy Sunday shows, where candidates are grilled on a number of different issues, would be good preparation for the fall debates against Mitt Romney, a candidate who spent much of the Republican primary on the debate stage. Obama, he said, "needs to hit against major league pitching."

While Romney avoided the Sunday shows early on in his fight for the Republican nomination, he has recently appeared on both "Fox News Sunday" and "Face The Nation." In April, top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told The Huffington Post that the campaign hopes for the Republican nominee "to do them all over the course of the campaign."

Obama is no stranger to doing interviews, a format he seems to prefer over other ways of engaging with journalists. He's done 464 interviews through May 2012, according to Kumar's research, which is significantly more than predecessors George W. Bush (159), Bill Clinton (181), George H.W. Bush (232), and Ronald Reagan (197) at the same point in their presidencies.

"Obama likes doing interviews because he can speak at length on individual issues," Kumar said, adding that "short question and answer sessions is not something he's good at."

Indeed, Obama generally avoids taking questions from reporters before, say, a cabinet meeting or after a bill signing. He has taken fewer such questions than all four previous presidents -- 99 through May 2012 compared to Clinton's 538 at the same time in his presidency.

It's not so uncommon for an incumbent president to try and steer clear of the national media stage in the months before an election, a reluctance that may only increase given reporters' obsession with covering candidate gaffes in 2012.

"Bush was equally or even more distant from reporters during 2004," Knoller said in an email. "Unless you had an authorized interview, we rarely if ever got a chance to question him about anything."

Obama has only had one formal, solo news conference with the national media so far in 2012, the same as Bush at this point during his reelection year.

Peter Baker, a New York Times reporter who has covered the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations, said in an email that there's "no question incumbents tend to go further into the bubble the closer they get to elections, and that’s certainly the case here."

"But it seems to me candidates for the highest office in the land ought to make themselves more available for questions, not less, as voters are evaluating them," Baker added. "I realize that’s probably quaint and old fashioned."

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