Is The Obama Message Machine Still Worthy of Glowing Media Praise?

Jennifer Senior wrote a massive cover piece on the Obama communications machine for this week's issue of New York that is, to put it mildly, a nauseatingly fawning tribute to the communications genius of our president and his advisers.

Now, anyone who's paying a lick of attention knows that the tech-savvy Obama administration is one of most skilled in the art of communication than any presidency from any era in U.S. history. We all know about the president's love for his Blackberry, his captivating skills as an orator, the White House's Flickr, Twitter and YouTube accounts, the Obama campaign's use of the web to raise ungodly amounts of money to vaporize well-established opponents, galvanize volunteers and disseminate it's message, but is all of that really working for them right now? Jennifer Senior seems to think so.

With the exception of George W. Bush, all of Obama's predecessors had a limited number of news outlets in which to make their cases, limited space in which to do it, and a time-bound moment to make their mark-if voters didn't catch their press conferences or read the morning paper, they were pretty much out of luck. Now, as all of us are aware, the web provides infinite space for both its own native forms (blogs, news aggregators, original YouTube posts) and old media (newspapers, TV clips), making it possible for us to watch a speech or read a story whenever we want, unconstrained by space and time. The resulting landscape is vast, diffuse, and multiplatform. And Obama is a multiplatform natural: He's done books and audiobooks; he commands audiences on both YouTube and from the podium; he BlackBerrys; he makes a nice photo. He recognizes that, in the same way a blog can't survive on just one post a day, a presidency can no longer survive on one message per day or one press conference per year. Instead, you have to turn on a fire hose.

The above paragraph sums up the tone of the entire piece pretty well. The whole thing basically reads like another big piece of rhetorical fellatio from the Obama-loving press, the type of stuff that right-wing talking heads will use as evidence that the press is in bed with the current president. As for the doubters, those who say that the president is cheapening himself and his message through media over-saturation, Senior says this:

The president has taken a fair amount of heat for this full-saturation approach. Friends and critics alike have complained it cheapens his words, erodes his mystique, and, worst of all, smacks of desperation. "You don't have to be on television every minute of every day," cracked Bill Maher recently. "You're the president, not a rerun of Law & Order." Yet it's also clear that the public has a near-insatiable appetite for Obama-related content, from the trivial to the serious. Dreams From My Father is now in its 156th week on the New York Times' best-seller list. Bill Burton, a White House deputy press secretary, tells me that he fields almost as many phone calls from the celebrity press as from the Washington Post, as if the president were George Clooney.

That's it, pretty much the entirety of the other side of this story—the president's book is still a bestseller and the tabloid press is ringing the White House phone, thus everything is dandy and Barack Obama is the smartest president ever!

At one point in the article, Senior praises Obama for having a 58% approval rating at the time of publication, a rating that is mediocre at best historically. Further, his numbers have dropped even more in past couple of days, with the latest Gallup poll putting his approval rating at 55%, putting him in tenth place among other presidents since the inception of approval ranking polls in the 1940s. His present ratings are lower than those of Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, two men who were not re-elected to second terms, at the same point in their presidencies.

And of course, there is the administration's continued failure to produce anything resembling a coherent message regarding health care reform. Despite facing an opposition that hasn't produced anything resembling an alternative, preferring instead to use tired scare tactics to derail any reform legislation, the president's poll numbers on health care continue to circle the drain.

The vaunted Obama message machine, the one so glowingly profiled in this week's New York Magazine, is failing miserably right now, despite the fact that the economy seems to be rebounding. There's really no two ways about it.

The Message is the Message [New York]