Thursday, June 4, 2009

Feeding the Elephant Media

Let's have a little chat about NBC's special "Inside the Obama White House."  Two days before the special, MSNBC was pumping promotional videos for it and the day the special aired, host Brian Williams made early rounds on the morning talk shows to get the word out one last time.  Williams couldn't emphasize enough the amount of man-hours, and television equipment required to produce an in-depth look into the new President's White House.  It took about thirty cameras to film the special, which I can believe because every fifteen minutes during the special, Williams interviewed President Obama in a different room of the White House.  That's a lot of microphones and cables.  
This special was quite a challenge but I felt NBC kept it light and interesting with some good television moments- Obama's media frenzy visiting the burger joint - to keep the special primetime, family friendly and not too serious.  The first night of the special, Williams looked less into the President's personal adjustment in the White House, instead focusing on the new administration.  Some fiery personalities like Rahm Emanual made for some good behind-the-scenes television, but the media cast this Chief of Staff as a ball of fire since his appointment, so that's nothing new.  I especially liked the brief scene showing Secretary of State Clinton receiving a semi-awkward hand-slap from a general as he walked in the room for a meeting.  These fleeting moments are what make"behind-the-media-image" television so interesting, but it also makes me realize how incredibly normal these politicians are.  Hillary Clinton being somewhat casual - not my impression of her.
But more significant than revealing these "average-guy" moments during this special, Williams made me realize how much the media and politics are intertwined.  I was shocked to see one of NBC's Chief Political Correspondents, Chuck Todd, chatting it up with some press secretaries inside the White House.  My vision of the daily operations of the White House Press Corps. was not like that. The young press secretary was lecturing Chuck Todd on the intricacies of some measure, but Todd's face seemed to not buy into the spin.  I realized good reporting and substantive information is made available in these backroom conversations; the official press room meeting is not the only time when the media questions the President.  I thought Press Secretary Gibbons spoke to the Press Corps every day, the Press Corps hounded Gibbons with questions and then the press flocked back to their stations and offices to write their stories.  That's not the case - the media and the White House are constantly dialoguing and monitoring each other.  I loved watching the video of President Obama watching his press secretary on his personal presidential television, which played four cable news channels simultaneously - television must be a powerful thing.  Most interesting of all, when Brian Williams asked the President if he ever stops and listens to the nightly cable news chatter, Obama said no.  So, the President's White House staff spends tons of time monitoring the media, making sure the story is told the way they want it told, but President Obama doesn't listen to the cable chatter. Interesting.  It's like organizing a circus - setting up the tent, printing the admission tickets, hiring the fire-eating man, and feeding the elephant - but not watching the opening night.

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