What happens when a previously-adoring national media starts reporting on your failures and rejects your spin? If you’re the Barack Obama White House, you start looking for media you can spin — even with transparently risible stunts like barely-attended protests staged by Obama’s former presidential campaign:
President Barack Obama has bungled HealthCare.gov so badly that he’s told senior aides to not even try to win positive coverage from the national press.
Instead, they’re going local.
In the past month, Obama and his Cabinet have hit nine of the top 10 cities with the highest concentration of the uninsured, while senior administration officials have held almost daily reporter conference calls in nearly a dozen states to challenge Republican governors who refuse to expand Medicaid.
Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action, is taking a similar approach, holding protests — some only attended by a dozen or so people — that win coverage on the local pages of the nation’s small-town newspapers. …
Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary, got top billing in front page stories last week in The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, S.C., The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., and the Portland Press Herald in Maine — offering the same talking points that the administration repeats daily in Washington without much notice.
And while the White House briefing room is dominated by national news outlets, just behind the door where the communications staff works is a wall covered with reproductions of front pages of local newspapers. Stories about Obama’s initiatives are outlined with yellow highlighter.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the strategy as a political effort. For one thing, the White House doesn’t have much choice, as the national media have focused on the overall failures and the statistics that expose the “you can keep your plan” lie. Talking points now generate laughter rather than headlines from the White House press corps, at best. This isn’t so much a deliberate strategy as it is a default.
However, bear in mind that the White House and OFA have had success with this approach before. In last year’s presidential election, we ridiculed Obama’s strategy of ignoring the beat reporters for national politics in favor of entertainment media and local news — where the star power of a sitting President (and this one in particular) guaranteed few probing questions would cross Obama’s path. What followed was an avalanche of myth-cheering, while the national media focused their critical attention on Mitt Romney in Obama’s absence.
That is the limitation with this strategy, though. Obama isn’t running for office, and there isn’t anyone else on whom the national press can focus in his absence. Besides, the stories from local news media have hardly been more positive than that of the national media, except for the reporting on OFA and White House stunts. The failures of ObamaCare have already impacted millions of people directly through cancellations, higher premiums and deductibles, and worse coverage — and those people have tens of millions in personal contact with them who have heard about their horror stories. The White House can conduct dozens of dozen-participant rallies to get themselves on the local evening news, but it will stand as much chance of reversing their political momentum as a snowball has of stopping an avalanche.