If there’s a trend line at work, it’s of politicians’ being ever more orchestrated and anxious about the establishment of their own narratives (and they were plenty orchestrated from the get-go). President Obama rose to national prominence literally on the power of his own storytelling, with an electrifying convention speech and a best-selling memoir, and has since been emphatic about the polish of his public appearances and the distance at which reporters are kept. He prefers teleprompters and the soft focus of “The View,” Letterman and “Entertainment Tonight” to potentially messy interactions with political reporters.
And that kind of extreme control feeds a vicious cycle. A suspicious, scandal-primed press corps yields wary politicians, whose reticence and guardedness foster greater suspicion still. “Bad behavior from both sides feeds more bad behavior,” observed Bradley Tusk, who managed Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign.
The Clinton, Weiner and Bachmann videos, all different but related, simply ratchet up the effort to marginalize naysaying reporters and neutralize skeptical reporting. And as Chris Lehane, a Democratic political strategist, pointed out to me, they take a page from corporate America, whose chieftains have used that same format, as opposed to news conferences or interviews, to distribute sensitive communiqués. Lehane mentioned, for example, the 2007 video in which David Neeleman, then the C.E.O. of JetBlue, explained the airline’s brand-quaking operations meltdown.
But corporations answer only to shareholders and customers. Politicians answer to all of us, and have a scarier kind of power, easily abused.