Saturday, February 26, 2011
Barack Obama 2012: The Media. Mikhail Kryzhanovsky, KGB
There are two power centers in the United States — TV and Washington, DC. Just as the press needs the White House to carry out its functions as the collector and interpreter of news and information, so the White House needs the press to spread its message. Your popularity depends on the amount of good and bad news about your administration’s policy dispensed by the media. No straight answers! If you rule the media, you rule America.
A press conference is the US President’s conference to proffer news items to the press, and not the press’s conference with the President. Behave like a king and they will take you for a king.
Don’t let reporters provoke you into making any promise or statement unprepared; talk about the “bad” issues before they ask you to; never say “I don’t know” but say: “The problem is under study” instead. “Cool off” reporters by re-asking the question in terms that allow you to answer it more easily.
Evade a question by pleading inability to reply on grounds of national security.
Change the tone and direction of the questioning by calling on a reporter with a reputation for asking “soft” questions. (Better yet, to show off your achievements answer a question that wasn’t asked).
Use press conferences to influence public opinion and to understand public opinion judging by the questions.
Don’t schedule any press conferences during an international crisis — as a rule, they inflame the situation. But you really need press conferences when your polls go down.
Your Press Secretary has to be exceptionally articulate, smart and loyal, because he is your image and echo. He is in charge of the news management and that includes:
a) daily briefings to announce the President’s initiatives and positions, appointments or pending legislation. In such a way the White House, not the media, sets the news agenda for the day (the “story of the day”). Reporters have to buy it because they need pictures. Your Press Secretary may also provide special “backgrounder” briefings for reporters to explain certain initiatives (these briefings may go “on the record,” meaning that the remarks may be quoted and the source identified, “on background,” in which the source can’t be identified, “on deep background” when attribution of any sort is prohibited, and “off record,” in which information given to reporters may not be included in their stories and is mainly provided for their guidance. Briefing sources may range from the President personally to Cabinet members, the White House staff and policy experts.
b) stonewalling - “No comment.”
c) any bad news should be released on late Friday nights when media organizations are minimally staffed and news is likely to draw less public attention over the weekend.
d) staged events:
- exclusive interviews to selective reporters from major news organizations, those who are known to be sympathetic toward the administration
- private interviews to Washington-based foreign correspondents from countries that are scheduled to be visited. In such a way you set the stage for your visit and define your objectives and expectations on your own terms.
e) private contacts with media (the best way to build media support).
f) keeping a “black list” of reporters who don’t report favorably on the President and his policy.
Because of the Press Secretary’s closeness to members of the news media, he is able to pick up public opinion trends and issues. The Office of Communications, that monitors the print and electronic media for stories of interest to the White House, has to bring you a one-page report every day.
You can get as much attention as you want. You are the most public figure in the world and everything you are doing and talking about inside and outside the White House has to be recorded. Every time you leave the White House you have to choose the right place or event, or accept the right invitation and deliver the message which is most important now. You rule the situation if you rule the flow of information, and if you can’t control events use your power to control the flow of information and give the first interpretation of events.
You are the White House boss but not the Washington, DC chief — you need the back up of public opinion for the next four years at least; but you must centralize policy making in the White House no matter what!