To push health care reform, President Obama will appear on five Sunday talk shows (on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and Univision) and on Letterman Monday; this, after last week’s speech to Congress and his 60 Minutes and CNBC appearances. And, as they did in March and in May and in July, the media are in fretting that, lord love a duck, Barack Obama is "overexposed." If he keeps this up, he’s going to block our view of all the tea-party folk screaming "You lie!" in their "I’m With Joe Wilson" T-shirts.
"We’ve never had a president with this all-consuming need to be on television 24/7," raged Rush Limbaugh. "This is like Castro!" A Kansas City Star writer was more concerned about Obama’s hold on the nation’s bubblegum grannies, asking, "Will Barack Obama be the next Ricky Martin?"
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski concurred. "I’m worrying he’s making a mistake," she said, while her guest, The New York Times‘s Mark Leibovich, proffered that maybe Obama is "showing off" and, citing the Univision appearance, asked, "How do you say ‘overexposure’ in Spanish?"
Later in the same show, the refreshing Gail Collins zeroed in on her colleagues’ own overexposure. Sure, the Times columnist said, Obama seems ubiquitous to us in the media because "we watch every one" of his appearances, but "the average American" might catch only one out of those half dozen upcoming shows, and then maybe only a few clips.
Which reminds me of the ad world’s "Rule of Seven." Consumers, according to this rough formula, are more likely to buy a product after they’ve been exposed to an ad at least seven times.
The rule is too pat, but the idea is sound: be it for POTUS or Palmolive, a message is unlikely to even register unless it’s repeated ad nauseum.
How else did the town-howlers "bend the curve" on the health care debate? And how did those ads for the (un-free) FreeCreditReport.com break through? For that matter, how did "Morning Joe–Brewed by Starbucks" win that very lucrative contract unless it had promised to shamelessly "overexpose" the sponsor?
We can argue over whether Obama is doing too much TV and not enough social media, or whether it’s dumb to skip Fox News this weekend. And we can, and should, argue about what he actually says on these shows. But the handwringing over the sheer frequency of his media appearances is worse than disingenuous.
For the political right and the corporate media–especially those three- or four-hour-a-day radio and cable TV hosts–whining that Obama hits the screens too much, or is in general "doing too much," is their way of telling him to be more like a Republican president than a Democratic one: To do nothing on health care, economic justice, student loans, or whatever the issue may be. Oh, they tell the president, make the occasional speech that we can hype as do-or-die, but then obey the status quo lobby’s instructions: Shut up and don’t annoy the scaaarrry Republicans. (Hey, Max Baucus–BOO!)
But wasn’t it just last week that Obama was criticized, and rightly so, for underexposing himself during that crucial month of August when, as Frank Rich wrote, the crazies were "poisoning the national discourse while the president bided his time"? And in fairness, some talking heads aren’t buying the "overexposed" canard. "We live in 24-hour news cycles now," former McCain media consultant Mark McKinnon told ABC, "and if the president isn’t filling the vacuum, his opponents will be."
Too much of the MSM, however, plays dumb, as if they’ve never heard of such a McLuhanesque notion. Similarly, they act as if this were the first time they’d ever warned Obama about the danger of being seen in public too often–when in fact they were tooting the same horn not only every other month since Inaugural Day but throughout the final months of the 2008 campaign. Remember how Obama’s Berlin speech was deemed overattended? How McCain tried to equate Obama with Paris Hilton as overpopular?
Of course the media want to forget that: Every time they warned of the calamities that would befall Obama for the sin of media oversaturation, he survived quite nicely.
The worst of the tsk-tskers are simply trying to shame the guy. Like, only a loser desperate for attention shows up at every party he’s invited himself to, and talks and talks and talks.
Could it be that the sight of this attractive, adroit, reasonable, and unflappable black man hurts GOP peepers? It’s probably a lot like seeing the girl who beat you out of prom queen in homeroom every day. He’s a constant reminder of their own political and ideological collapse, and it’s just too much that he goes about his job with far more worldwide acceptance than poor old George W. Bush.