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Best and Worst Obama Image-Shaping Moves of 1st 100 days

By Kevin Sullivan, Houston Chronicle / Texas on the Potomac Blog

May 4, 2009

A few observations on the first hundreds days of the Obama administration, albeit without benefit of all the inside information I used to have:

  • The White House began the big Day 100 with a successful town hall event in front of 1,100 supporters in suburban St. Louis. Going to Missouri, the only battleground state President Obama lost, was a smart call, but why do the town hall on the same day as the prime-time press conference? The WH team has done this campaign-style two-step before, holding a town hall in Elkhart, Ind. on the day of the first prime-time presser. Why cut short the shelf life of these compelling town hall events by stepping on them with the news conference? Why not set up Day 100 with a town hall on Day 99?

  • President Obama delivered some good lines in Arnold, Mo. (“I will continue to measure my progress by the progress that you see in your own lives.”), but continues to be long-winded – taking just six questions in 50 minutes. This has been an issue in his press conferences, as well.

Three communications pros and cons from the first 100 days:


  • Effective and appropriate use of First Family… rollout of the dog, the vegetable garden and the anti-paparazzi strategy of regularly releasing family photos has been brilliant.

  • Effectively reached beyond the Beltway with interviews with regional and specialty reporters. Turning the radio address into the You Tube-friendly radio/video “weekly address” was a good idea. Scored with the ESPN interview to disclose his NCAA brackets, but should have released his women’s bracket at same time (not later, when asked for it). The Leno interview would have been a home run without the unfortunate joke about Special Olympics that resulted in a quick apology. Exclusive 100 Days photo spread in Time magazine was smart.

  • Give credit for selling his agenda and racking up some wins in Congress, even if it was accomplished without the bipartisanship the President wanted. Guest Blog.jpg


  • Jury is definitely out on the re-tooled web site and there is no excuse for not translating speeches, releases and official documents into Spanish. A contractor is available to do the translations and en Espanol was a hallmark of the Bush Administration. This one is a head-scratcher for me.

  • There has been a tendency to talk policy before it is fully baked — see immigration announcement, which had to be walked back a couple days later.

  • I believe the majority of Americans — including supporters of President Obama — do not approve of their president going to a foreign country and criticizing America as he did in Europe. And the language chosen — “arrogant, dismissive, derisive” was way beyond what was needed to make the point that the President was beginning a new chapter. The pursuit of popularity overseas is the only possible explanation.


From President Obama’s Senior Adviser David Axelrod, on April 27 at The Week magazine’s Sixth Annual Opinion Awards:

“Don’t get me wrong: the Internet and the availability of the latest news when you want it has enormous value. But it has also contributed at times to sloppy journalism and a dumbed-down public debate … It’s become a carnival where every day is Election Day; where we’re consumed with who’s up and who’s down; where we book people on TV to do nothing more than argue with one another, generating more heat than light; where we allow ourselves to be caught up in the trivial tempest of the moment. And I know my profession is not blameless. Folks in our end of the business often feel compelled to play along, feed the beast, and help contribute to an atmosphere of cynicism.”

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