Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The President and the press

To counter the myth that he does not appear to be concerned with the state of national opinion, or that he lives in a vacuum unconcerned that many in the world might disagree with him, the President is appearing three different times this week in three different interviews and on three different news sources. Early in his presidency, Bush had told certain members of the media that he “did not read the papers,” and this lead to the now-widespread criticism that he is “walled-in” at the White House, choosing to shield himself from the outside world.

As it turns out, the President admitted to Brian Williams on Today that he does read the papers and he does pay attention to the press. He reads the papers daily, he said, just not every article.

Anyone who knows anything about how the White House functions knows that any sitting Chief Executive, regardless of party, gets a daily briefing about various things that are being said in the press and is given advice on how best to handle the media and public criticism. The Clinton Administration was so concerned about public criticism that they had an entire team of staffers in the White House Press Office whose job became listening to the daily talk radio circuit, much of which was then and still is populated by conservative commentators who were hostile to Clinton. Rush Limbaugh used to openly brag that Clinton had an entire team of people doing nothing but listening to his show because they were deathly afraid of his influence. As it turned out, Rush was at least partly right.

Clinton and his staffers had good reason to worry about Rush. Few political scientists or pundits deny at this point that the influence of talk radio over the creation of the present national political dynamic, a dynamic which came about largely as a result of the 1994 General Election, was so great that it was a part of the reason for the overwhelming success of the GOP. Talk radio was a media alternative to the mainstream to which many people turned, and if you are a president seeking to maintain power and control, alternative media sources are where you should be looking to learn of the mood of the voting population, since that population often feels disconnected from the mainstream.

Since that is the case, it makes you wonder if the White House has a group of staffers who monitor blogs and bloggers. Weblogs are an alternative media source that does have an impact on people who will actually vote, and not just on conservatives. People of all political persuasions have taken to the internet as a means to combat the mainstream press and to get their views out to the public. Hence, it would do well for the White House to watch what bloggers say, because blogs are keeping a tight watch on the White House.


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