President Trump and his predecessor had very different relationships with the media. And the media had a very different relationship to each of them.
Obama didn’t like talking to the press corps. The freewheeling unstructured chats that President Trump has become known for were rare during his administration. Instead, Obama preferred to have cronies arrange extended interviews at which he held forth to a single admiring reporter from an elitist publication.
These interviews targeted Obama’s base of wealthy donors and influential figures. And they were supplemented with staged events with millennial personalities that made him seem accessible. But Obama was anything but accessible. His media interactions were carefully managed.
Even his photographs, usually the one area where politicians have the least control, were often not the work of the media, but of his own photographer, Pete Souza, producing flattering images of him for the press. The White House Correspondents Association protested that, “Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties.”
Obama wasn’t worried about rudeness from CNN or even tough questions. The abrasive belittling that President Trump has faced from the press corps would have been unthinkable. Even tough questions were a rarity. In one of the more embarrassing moments of media fawning, the New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny asked Obama, what “enchanted you the most about serving in this office?”
But Obama and his associates worked hard at staying in control of the message. They didn’t just want flattering coverage. They couldn’t have gotten negative media coverage if they had nuked Boston. What they wanted was for the media to be an extension of the White House’s messaging operation. Tight control over Obama’s availability allowed him to purposefully set the media’s agenda to match his own.
An analysis by White House Transition Project director Martha Kumar noted that while Obama gave far more interviews, President Trump has done many more short Q&As. 42% of Trump’s public statements came through his time with reporters while only 31% of Obama’s did. Trump works the press in front of the camera. Obama’s people did most of their work with the press behind the curtain.
Where Obama needed to tightly control the media, Trump is comfortable trolling it. Obama avoided unstructured conversations because they might lead to the media covering something other than he wanted them to. Trump however is confident about getting the media to cover exactly what he wants.
Obama structured coverage by limiting access and using cronies like Ben Rhodes to trade access, plant stories and manipulate the media into functioning as his echo chamber. Trump welcomes coverage, and keeps his interactions with the media public. Unlike Obama, he expects no secret favors from the media. And his rousing battles with the media help promote whatever he wants to talk about. The more the media hates Trump, the more it has to cover him. The more he provokes it, the more it reports on him.
Read the full story from Front Page Mag
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