Obama’s health care reform and the press

President Obama is doing everything to promote his health care reform, cranking out statements and making appeals to audiences across all lines of communication. He is using web addresses, TV appearances and conference calls with bloggers.

“I don’t know whether he will Twitter or tweet,” senior adviser David Axelrod told The Washington Post on Monday. “But he’s going to be very, very visible.”

Before the explosion of new media, politicians relied on personal interaction and the press, fireside chats and evening addresses. Debates on the Constitution, Abolitionism, the New Deal were displayed in print, with favorable press holding immense significance in their ultimate passage. Success was largely dependent on intimate relationships with journalists, and no one exemplified this better than President Roosevelt.

In a New York Times blog chronicling Obama’s first 100 days in office, Jean Edward Smith writes about taming the press Roosevelt style:

No president enjoyed more favorable press coverage than F.D.R., and no president worked more assiduously to cultivate it…

By inviting the entire press corps into the Oval Office, every correspondent had a sense that he or she was participating in the new administration. That they were being confided in by the president and treated as a partner. There was also no sense that the president was playing favorites. Everyone was treated equally…

He concludes:

Roosevelt, who had once been editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson, considered himself a former journalist. He enjoyed company of reporters and fully understood what he and they could do for each other. His sessions with the White House press corps were virtuoso performances that got the administration position into print with a minimum of friction.

And Obama is using the traditional press. But he is also sharing his message across broader lines using new forms of public discussion.

Perhaps he has not only followed Roosevelt’s methods, but Lincoln’s, too. In an article in US News last February, Justin Ewers writes about Abraham Lincoln:

He was a man with little formal schooling who was quick to grasp the power of new technology, and an unusually humble statesman who did as much as any politician of his era to cultivate his own image.

Just like Lincoln and Roosevelt, Obama is using the press to his advantage. But this time, everyone is the press.

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