The Obama Team and Media Management

Great Michael Wolff piece (via Laura Rozen) on the Obama administration’s vice-like grip on image control and media management in general. I’ve noticed the same thing in trying to find open source White House photos of the president to accompany WPR articles. There’s almost nothing available outside of the carefully stage-managed “slide shows.” (Does no one else remember that slide shows were once code for boring presentations that primarily interested the person who insisted on subjecting unsuspecting guests to them? Does no one else agree that that has not changed just because they’re now delivered over the internet?)

I never thought I’d find myself saying it, but the Bush administration, which supposedly tightly controlled image and staging, was much more forthcoming in terms of generic photos of the president. I couldn’t even find a single WH photo of the Obama-Hu side meeting at the London G-20 summit, despite dozens of them existing from the news wires. And as for the State Dept., which admittedly was pretty bad on this score before as well, the photo galleries for Hillary Clinton aggregate copyrighted wire service photos. Every step these two take is documented by an official photographer paid for by taxpayer dollars. And the internet makes it possible for all of that work, which is in the public domain, to be made available. Unfortunately, that still isn’t the case.

As for the more significant implications of the Wolff piece, it is certainly the first reflection on how, concretely, the newspaper industry’s anticipated demise will concentrate power in the hands of the executive. In that, some earthshaking event symbolizing the industry’s collapse — the failure of the NY Times, for instance — might prove to be the Obama administration’s 9/11. Like the Bush adminsitration in the months after the collapse of the Twin Towers, the Obama team might well find itself with an unprecedented power to shape the political agenda. But just as with Bush, how they use that power will determine whether there is an inevitable backlash or not.

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