President Biden’s Outdated Media Strategies

From CNN’s Reliable Sources by Brian Stelter:

Biden’s outdated media strategies

Pundits are generally too quick to blame poor communication for a president’s woes. Messaging can only get a politician so far. Many constituents are inflexible. Many others are barely interested in politics at all. Public opinion is thermostatic and negative partisanship is the story of our time.

But, but, but! A president’s messaging is still important. And what comes through loudly and clearly, in this must-read Edward-Isaac Dovere report about President Biden‘s “struggle to break through,” is immense frustration about the White House’s communications strategies.

Dovere’s article — based on conversations “with 14 White House aides and other Democrats in close touch with the WH” — is chock full of new reporting, and it relates to Biden’s Thursday address about guns. I want to highlight a few sections:

Dismissal of “soft” media?

The President is a 79-year-old man who still thinks in terms of newspaper front pages and primetime TV programs, surrounded by not-quite-as-senior aides in senior positions with the same late 1990s media diet,” Dovere wrote. He reports that a senior adviser was dismissive of “soft media” like YouTube and TikTok in a recent dialogue with other WH staffers. The quote: “These numbers that get put up by ‘soft media’ don’t feel as real.”

There are other constraints too: National security officials have assessed “that Biden can’t go on TikTok because of security concerns around the Chinese government’s stake in the company.”

But fundamentally, he is not a TikToker, anyway: “Televised speeches and front-page stories are how he thinks of a president making news.” Ergo, Thursday’s 7:30pm ET speech about curbing gun violence, carried by all the major networks, which earned him this Friday front page of the Washington Post:

Biden sought to channel a feeling by some in Washington that this time could be different in the aftermath of a racist massacre and a slaughter at an elementary school that gripped the nation’s attention,” The Post’s story says. But will there be sustained followups?

Going viral for the wrong reasons

Aides regularly talk about how little traction they’re getting from one-off Biden appearances or events and then — whether on inflation, the baby formula shortage or mass shootings or the other crises landing on Biden’s desk — he’s often left looking like he’s in a reactive crouch on the issues that matter most to voters rather than setting the agenda,” Dovere wrote. “Sometimes clipped moments from those speeches that the White House puts out on social media generate huge traffic but, at least as often, moments from the President appearing to be caught off-guard go viral on their own.”

>> In response to Dovere’s question about the president’s older media habits, deputy press secretary Andrew Bates “noted the weekly time set aside on the President’s schedule for creating digital content and the over 70 people on staff who help create it and manage his various accounts, as well as two interviews in the past few months with online-only creators…”

“Tweet-by tweet thinking”

Dovere’s reporting ties Biden’s comms trouble to “deeper dysfunction” among staff: “Older aides dismiss the younger aides as being too caught up in the tweet-by-tweet thinking they say lost the 2020 election for everyone else. Younger aides give up — what’s the point of working up innovative ideas, they ask themselves, if the ideas constantly get knocked down and the aides get looked down on for suggesting them?”

Some of this, of course, is a critique of Chief of Staff Ron Klain. “The knives are out” for Klain, Puck’s Tara Palmeri wrote Thursday, citing recent leaks. Dovere wrote that “many in the West Wing are counting on the recent return of Anita Dunn” to “shake the President from patterns that have become ingrained.” Palmeri said that Dunn is already “helping to redefine the Biden narrative through a series of optics plays,” like this week’s visit by BTS.

Nonstop right-wing attacks

It’s essential to see that Biden is subject to 24/7 tear-downs by an entire universe of GOP media outlets. He undoubtedly sees it — NBC‘s report earlier this week, “Inside a Biden White House adrift,” suggested that he is a heavy consumer of cable news.

Biden has vented to aides about not getting credit from Americans or the news media for actions he believes have helped the country, particularly on the economy,” NBC reported. And he has “told aides he doesn’t think enough Democrats go on television to defend him.”

Here is another standout detail from Dovere’s story: Aides believe the most effective way “to convince people the President isn’t the doddering right-wing media caricature” is for people to “see him in action,” to see him “actually doing things.”Prresident Biden’s Outdated Media Strrategies

Maybe that was the impulse for Thursday’s address about guns. But less than an hour later, “Biden left for an early weekend at his beach house in Delaware, without much of a public schedule for days,” Dovere wrote. And then the GOP media machine took control, with Tucker Carlson telling his viewers to “PREPARE TO BE UNARMED” and Mollie Hemingway saying the speech was “an impeachable offense” because the Second Amendment is “so foundational to the country.” This post by radio host Buck Sexton summed up the right-wing reaction to Biden’s speech in 23 words: “Biden is pathetic. This is a grossly partisan, ignorant speech about the 2nd Amendment, rooted in emotional blackmail, false premises and outright fabrications.”

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