Today's question: President Barack Obama sitting down for an interview with the ladies of "The View" -- smart, or not?
Where a president goes to speak -- each venue, each city -- is part of the overall effort in every White House to get the commander in chief's message out. ABC's "The View" snared Obama, a coup for the network for sure, but what's in it for the administration? The Politics Daily crew weighs in, each with a distinctive take.
Obama taped the show Wednesday while in Manhattan for two fundraisers, and the program will air on Thursday. The set of the "The View" is familiar to Obama and his wife, Michelle, as each appeared during the 2008 presidential campaign. (It was on "The View" that Mrs. Obama confessed she did not wear panty hose.)
Discussing Obama's impending appearance on "The View" at the Tuesday briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called it "another opportunity for the president to talk to people where they are. We made a decision to put the president on Jay Leno, David Letterman, 'The View,' because . . . people have busy lives and it's best to go where they are." Meanwhile, Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania advised Tuesday morning on "Morning Joe" that Obama refrain from appearing on the daytime show.
Finally, something unscripted! Hopefully. Talking to the ladies on "The View" is a way for President Obama to reach a different audience -- one that may not be hanging on the latest Twitter, Facebook or blog post, watching television news, websites or newspapers.
It's smart for the Obama messaging team to book him on the show because he can talk about his health care and financial reform overhauls and what they mean to consumers in a friendly setting. In return, the co-hosts have the opportunity to take Obama to uncharted territory. Obama has never done this kind of multiple host conversational format as president. That's a risk, but Obama reduces that risk if he is disciplined. It may be hard to pull this off, however, with total dignity. When Obama was last on the program, during the presidential campaign in March 2008, co-host Barbara Walters gushed about him being "very sexy looking." There are worse things that can be said about a man.
As a reporter who was there at the call-the-Smithsonian-history-is-being-made moment when Bill Clinton played the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" during the 1992 campaign, I know a little something about presidential informality. And what stuns me is that anyone is stunned that Barack Obama is going on "The View." Dignity has been on a downhill slide at the White House since the days when George H.W. Bush pretended that his love of pork rinds proved his Texas authenticity. Obama has already violated sartorial standards by tying-one-off and going open-necked to the theater in New York. What taboo could possibly be broken by him whooping it up with Whoopi and Company on morning TV? It is not as if Obama is apt to emulate Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and start bragging about his Viagra consumption.
What I do worry about, however, are future presidents and reality television. Just imagine the TV promos in 2017: "Live from the White House, it's 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.' "
President Obama's decision to dip his toe into the world of daytime TV (a first for a sitting prez, ABC handlers have said) is no surprise: the chat fest that is "The View" has become a litmus test for where the women of America are today.
Readers might recall that it was "The View" that became a central battlefield during Election 2008. It was on this program that Michelle Obama, at a table helmed by Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, won over the country (she wore an off-the-rack black and white frock that added to her Everywoman appeal); it was on "The View" that Behar implied that John McCain was a liar and that the candidate's feet were held to the fire on the issues; it was 'The View" that vigorously debated the Keating 5 scandal and Sarah Palin -- firsts, surely for what's seen as soft-news, gal-friendly TV. I mean, Frank Rich called Joy Behar the new Edward R. Murrow. So, given that Shirley Sherrod went on the program last week, it's not terribly surprising that the president -- whose administration fell down on her forced dismissal -- would appear not far behind. The Women Who Watch were expecting him.
Politics seems to be a variation of Newton's laws of motion for the president these days, with every action producing an equal and opposite reaction. So when Obama appears on "The View," he can expect at least harrumphs from some religious conservatives, like the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, who regularly blasts the often irreverent patter from the televised kaffeeklatsch. And with good reason: The liberal leanings of "The View's" leading ladies overshadow even the one Palinista co-host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
But turn down Barbara and Whoopi and the rest? Not to mention the huge audience of women who will be crucial to his electoral future? No way. Besides, he has been on twice before, in 2004 and 2008, and can't say no now. He need only fear the wrath of "View" rival Oprah Winfrey.
I believe that the president has pretty good instincts on what to say when he has a need for people to hear him. "The View" is frivolous and silly compared to "Face the Nation" and "60 Minutes," but for a guy who needs to remind folks he's up to speed on what problems need solving, the ABC ladies of the afternoon are a good sounding board.
I hope they can find a way to get him on the Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart shows, too.
Choosing "The View" instead of Oprah (whom everyone knows works for Team Obama already) suggests that his communications people have given much thought to the women's platform. It's not an isolated example. I received an e-mail from "Michelle Obama" today (under the Organizing for America mailing list) with the subject line: "Will you sign Barack's birthday card with me?" The message begins: "Every year, our family tries to come up with a fun way to wish Barack a happy birthday. And this August 4th, when he turns 49, I have something new in mind . . ."
For a White House that has had to contend with the removal of its top commander in Afghanistan following the publication of a Rolling Stone article (which, it must be said, featured Lady Gaga on its cover), a race scandal born on the Internet that managed to channel as much national static as the Jeremiah Wright affair, and the leak of 92,000 classified military reports via an activist website -- all in the last month!-- well, it's pretty obvious that the media landscape has changed. So too, then, must the Office of the President.
I can't say that I was elated to learn that the 44th commander in chief would be the very first to sit down with Whoopi, Barbara, Joy, Elisabeth and Sherri (it ain't the same since Rosie left), but I understand the reasoning. The White House was pretty transparent about it, too. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said it was "another opportunity for the president to talk to people where they are." Where they are, apparently, is sitting and watching television at 11 a.m. on a weekday? OK, never mind that logic. Obama, it's clear, has a perception problem: Whether it's health care, the Recovery Act or financial reform, the country isn't buying what he's doing. Or they aren't even listening to begin with. Going on "The View" is his chance to communicate with all the men and women (OK, mostly the latter) who watch one of the most popular shows in the country. Obama's done it before -- and my guess is he'll do it again. The Change President is just living up to his name -- and the climate in which he has to govern.
Obama's appearance will certainly generate buzz, but will anyone care beyond a mini news cycle? Likely not. By the time the show airs, Sarah Palin will have tweeted, Fox News will have ripped the White House and another oil leak could be spewing. The economy is still unstable. The country is still at war. The Gulf of Mexico is in tarred ruins along with countless families' livelihoods and vacation plans, especially in the South. Such troubled times call for a statesman. If Obama wants to seriously discuss the nation's problems, he needs a media outlet that isn't a daytime Chatty Cathy show where the hostesses will likely ask him if he takes out the White House garbage.
There has often been a willingness among candidates past and present (remember Bob Dole's Viagra ad) to do things that a sitting president might deem beneath the office, in order to appeal to the "common man" – or, in this case, the common woman. In 1968, for example, candidate Richard Nixon appeared on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" – sort of the "Saturday Night Live" of its day. And during the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush and Al Gore appeared on "Oprah."
As candidates in 2008, both McCain and Obama appeared on "The View." And, as president, Obama has already appeared on other entertainment shows, such as "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," so there's no earthly reason not to do "The View." There is, of course, something to be said for upholding the dignity of the office of the President of the United States. But that ship sailed long ago and is halfway across the ocean.
President Obama will wade into the cross-talk and chat that is "The View" to make his case with daytime TV watchers. It will be comforting to see veteran journalist Barbara Walters return from surgery to add another political interview to her long list. But I expect no substantive policy scoops. More likely, we'll get a video clip of the commander in chief sparring with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, an exchange that will elevate the stature of the show's resident conservative and do nothing for the president. America knows Obama can be charming on a talk-show set. I'd prefer to see him in the Oval Office.
Click play below to watch the hosts of 'The View' announce President Obama's decision to come on the show:
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