Night Watch: Communications 101


At a Seattle backyard chat, President Obama suggested on Thursday that his administration’s record had been distortedbecause of poor communication about what it had accomplished. “I think that one of the challenges we had two years ago was we had to move so fast, we were in such emergency mode, that it was very difficult for us to spend a lot of time doing victory laps and advertising exactly what we were doing, because we had to move on to the next thing,” Mr. Obama said.

Television pundits debated afterward whether poor self-promotion skill was the administration’s biggest problem, as many voters say they are dissatisfied with the president and Democratic candidates.

On CNN’s “John King USA” on Thursday night, Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, said Mr. Obama was “telling what a lot of us Democrats think anyway — that we did a fairly poor job of selling what we were doing.”

But Gloria Borger, CNN’s senior political analyst, sounded more skeptical, saying about health care for instance: “It sounds a little elite, excuse me for saying that, to say if we only sold it to Americans more, they would get it. What if they sort of understand what was in it and they didn’t actually like it because they thought that it was too much? ”

And national political correspondent Jessica Yellin noted that the “White House’s argument is also changing.”

“A few months ago, the White House was not saying we messaged poorly,” Ms. Yellin said. “They were saying, ′Oh no, by the time the election comes around people will feel the benefits of this, they’ll get it.′ ”

Ms. Borger also asserted that Mr. Obama’s comment was “a little whiny.”

Cornell Belcher retorted, “Him saying ‘I didn’t do a good job’ is not whining. That’s him being a man.” (Video of the segment, unfortunately, is not online, but the transcript is here.)

Continuing on the theme of poor communication, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow followed up Thursday night on a New York Times article on “the tax cut nobody heard of.”

“It is true — it is a true fact — that 95 percent of Americans got a fat tax cut from the Democrats’ stimulus bill. That is true. But nobody believes it!,” Ms. Maddow said. “On the other hand, it is not true that corporations generally pay onerous taxes in this country. In fact, many of the biggest ones pay nothing. But Republicans are counting in this election on everybody believing that the corporate tax rate is super-onerous.” Here’s the segment:

Elsewhere on television Thursday night, Chris Matthews continued his “Hardball” college tour; Glenn Beck defended Sarah Palin and said “we’re practically pen pals”; and Sean Hannity talked to Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, about the Tea Party influence on the G.O.P.

On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly interviewed Juan Williams, who was fired by NPR this week but was quickly signed to a new contract by Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman.

NPR took issue with Mr. Williams’s comments about fearing people in “Muslim garb” on airplanes — comments he made Monday on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Mr. Williams said the incident came down to this: “They were looking for a reason to get rid of me because I appear on Fox News.” Here’s the segment:

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