The Candidate Who Got Crushed By A Smarter Interviewer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 13, 2014 – 6:02 am

The House Majority Leader, Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, is trying to win re-election this year against a little-known Democratic opponent named Mike Dickinson (See update below).

Mr. Dickinson entered the national spotlight late last week after he appeared on Fox News to speak with anchor Greta Van Susteren.

Van Susteren wanted to know more about Dickinson’s “War on Fox News,” which the candidate launched because he thought Fox News often misrepresented the facts. (That shouldn’t exactly be a tough position to argue.) But Van Susteren—a skilled criminal defense lawyer—decided to do some research about Dickinson’s past. And the resulting interview was simply devastating.

Watch this interview, then tell me: Is it me, or did Dickinson look like SNL’s Darrell Hammond doing a parody of a local politician?

The first lesson is this, as stated by Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard: “Pro tip: If you’re running for Congress and pledging a “war on Fox News” then it’s probably best not to appear on Fox News.” But I only agree with that partially. Appearing on Fox News while pledging a war on the network could have turned this local Democratic candidate into a popular national Democratic hero—if he was a skilled debater who could have held his own against an experienced host.

Second, if you have skeletons in your closet (consulting for strip clubs), you should probably have a good response ready. Instead, Dickinson just took Van Susteren’s punches without offering any counter response. For example, he could have said:

“You know, I know that’s not a popular profession with some people. But I want to be clear about how my policies would benefit women—and how Eric Cantor’s have hurt them [insert examples].”

Mike Dickinson

But the worst moment came when Van Susteren cornered him into admitting that he had lied about calling himself the CEO of a company (he wasn’t). He admitted to being a liar. Again, a skilled candidate would have had a better response prepared:

“I’m embarrassed by that and wish I could do that one over again, but let’s be very clear about one thing: I haven’t spent my entire professional career misrepresenting who I am and what I believe. Eric Cantor has. For example…”

Dickinson is trying to use heightened rhetoric to earn free national media coverage. Other politicians have used that strategy as well: Democrats Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner, and Republicans Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, among others. But there’s a key difference: they were all good at that game, and Dickinson is not.

As Van Susteren told him, “You’re a piece of work.” The problem for Dickinson is that I suspect many of his potential voters agree.

UPDATE: After writing this article but before posting it, news emerged that Mr. Dickinson failed to meet the filing deadline to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 7th District. He reportedly failed to inform Fox News that he wasn’t officially a candidate; nor did the network appear to verify his claim otherwise.

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A grateful hat tip to reader John Barnett.


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How One Man Defeated A Biased Interviewer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 29, 2013 – 1:30 pm

I’ve seen a lot of biased, ill-informed, and journalistically lazy interviews through the years, and this one was one of the worst. But the author who was the target of the anchor’s ire stood up to her questions well—and, in part due to his deft handling of that interview, currently has Amazon’s top-selling book.

Writer Reza Aslan—a prolific author who holds a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion—appeared on the Fox News Channel to discuss his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Fox News anchor Lauren Green went into the interview clearly skeptical of the book—less for its content, about which she was clearly unfamiliar—but because Aslan is Muslim. And a Muslim writing about Jesus was just too much for her to take.

I haven’t read Aslan’s book; therefore, I’m unable to judge its content or objectivity. Perhaps Aslan’s critics have legitimate criticisms of his work. But Ms. Green’s agenda-driven questions didn’t shine a light on them in an illuminating manner.

Her entire premise was flawed, arguing that a Muslim couldn’t possibly write an objective history of Jesus. That’s a specious argument, one that would logically also preclude the possibility that a Christian could write fairly about Judaism. And although religion and race isn’t the same, her logical construct isn’t a far leap from suggesting that a white historian couldn’t write fairly about a black civil rights leader or that an African American couldn’t write about George Washington. Exploring a writer’s motivation is one thing; dismissing his work without careful inspection is quite another.

Instead of focusing on the book’s content and taking issue with specific points, Green read a series of quotes from people who didn’t like the book. But instead of relying on a neutral third party critic, the first quote came from…wait for it…FoxNews.com! Get that? She may as well have said, “I’d like to read you a quote from an article written by someone who contributes to the same news organization for which I work. He magically has the same premise I do, and I’d like to use it to attack you.”

But the biggest jaw-dropper came at the end of the interview, when Green asked Aslan why he tried to hide his religious identify from the public. “It’s on page two of my book!” retorted a surprised Aslan, proving that Green hadn’t done even the slightest bit of research before their conversation.

Since this is primarily a media training blog, here are four lessons you can learn from Reza Aslan if you’re ever the target of a biased media interview.

1. He looked reasonable. No matter how offensive Ms. Green’s questions became, Aslan maintained the high ground and kept his cool. When challenged, Mr. Aslan described his bona fides and invited viewers to review his book’s 100 pages of end notes.  His reasonableness, contrasted with host’s badly prepared questions, made him look better the longer the interview continued.

2. He conceded the obvious. When Ms. Green confronted him by saying many scholars disagreed with his work, he didn’t deny the charge—he embraced it. Such is the nature of academic debate, he pointed out, before reminding Green that many scholars agreed with him, too.  

3. He corrected the anchor’s flawed premise. When the host asked Aslan “Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” he responded to that flabbergasting question calmly by saying, “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion…It’s unfair to assume that because of my particular faith background, that there is some agenda on this book.”

4. He pushed back—but not too quickly. After being asked the same question numerous times, Aslan politely pushed back, saying, “I think it’s strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we’re debating the right of the scholar to write it.”

In the end, Aslan proves a point I make frequently on this blog—that tough questions should be regarded as gifts that allow you to demonstrate your competence. His calm, competent handling of her loaded questions convinced many people that he deserved a fair hearing—as proven by landing at the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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A Brief And Incomplete History of Media Mistakes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 17, 2013 – 4:17 pm

CNN is yet again being criticized for misreporting a major news story.

This time, the network claimed that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. After the FBI issued a stern rebuke, the occasional news network backed away from the story. (Others got the story wrong as well, but CNN’s mistakes were made with particular panache.)

BuzzFeed did a wonderful job of capturing CNN’s awful hour of reporting here.

Below are a few other high-profile examples of mainstream media outlets getting a major story wrong. 

In December 2012, after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, many news outlets wrongly identified the shooter as Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan. Lanza’s mother was also widely reported to have been a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School; she wasn’t. Many news outlets also misreported the type of gun used in the attack.

 

In June 2012, both CNN and the Fox News Channel misreported the Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Obama’s health care law, as the screenshots below show.

 

 

In 2011, many news organizations misreported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died. According to Poynter.org:

“Organizations such as NPR, Reuters, Fox News, CBS, CNN and the Huffington Post sent out tweets or distributed other reports declaring Giffords dead. The New York Times’ website briefly reported her dead as well.”

 

In 2004, The New York Post splashed John Kerry’s Vice Presidential choice on its front page: “Dem picks (Dick) Gephardt,” blared the headline. Except he didn’t. John Edwards got the nod.

In 2000, CNN reported that Al Gore had won Florida.

 

In 1981, President Reagan’s spokesperson, James Brady, was declared dead by news networks after being hit by one of John Hinkley’s bullets. He’s still alive.

 

Remember President Thomas E. Dewey? In 1948, The Chicago Tribune named him the winner of the presidential election. He wasn’t. Harry Truman was elected to a full term.

These are just a few examples – the list of incorrect media stories could include hundreds of others.

I think it’s reasonable to conclude that breaking news coverage is broken. I no longer trust the first wave of reporting on the cable news channels. In the rush to be first, they too often blow the story, or at least critical parts of the story.

We should be skeptical when reporters rely upon the wording “sources said.” Yes, anonymous sources are often reliable. But as we’ve seen from these high-profile examples, they’re too often wrong. And we, as viewers, have no way of determining the credibility of those anonymous sources. That has always been so, but in light of these major and recurring mistakes, it’s more so now than ever before.

From now on, I’m inclined to wait until law enforcement officials confirm stories publicly before fully believing them. You probably should too.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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June 2012: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 29, 2012 – 6:04 am

As we close out the first half of 2012, I’m happy to report that public figures didn’t let us down.

As usual, they committed a series of gaffes ranging from the bizarre…to the rude…to the downright cringeworthy.

So without any further ado, here’s this month’s collection, featuring a deceased spouse, some bad reporting, and an aggressive heckler.

And if you missed the ten worst media disasters of 2011, click here to catch up.

5. Hey, Martin Short: How’s Your Dead Wife Doing?

Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford committed an embarrassing gaffe when she asked comic Martin Short how his wife was doing. The problem? Mr. Short’s wife, Nancy, died two years ago.

Two things are noteworthy about this gaffe. First, Ms. Giffords’ question suggested a more intimate friendship with the Shorts than she clearly had. Second, note Mr. Short’s incredibly graceful reaction. His poise during an uncomfortable moment only made him look better. 

Note: Although this occurred at the end of May, it missed the deadline for last month’s list.

 

4. CNN and Fox News Blow Supreme Court Call

In their zeal to report the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, two of the biggest cable news channels blew the story. Both incorrectly reported that the individual mandate was dead.

Given the history of blown media calls—which include “Gabrielle Giffords dead,” “Gore wins Florida,” and “Dewey beats Truman,” you’d think the networks would know better than to rush information to air.

 

3. British Member of Parliament Gets Pummeled By Interviewer

This was a classic interview with an “out of the loop” spokesperson.

Chloe Smith is a young (30-year-old) conservative member of the British Parliament who serves as the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. When she appeared on Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight to discuss the decision to delay a planned increase in fuel taxes, she failed to answer even the most direct questions.

Many of Ms. Smith’s colleagues in Parliament were furious that her boss who made the decision, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, sent her to do the show instead of doing it himself. Cover your eyes when you watch this one.

h/t @simonbriault

 

2. Blogger Heckles President Obama’s Immigration Speech

Neil Munro, a blogger for Tucker Carlson’s conservative website The Daily Caller, heckled President Obama during his immigration speech by shouting a confrontational question at him: “Why are you favoring immigrant workers over Americans?”  

Mr. Munro later claimed that he thought the President was finished with his statement and simply mistimed his question. But no other reporters were similarly confused, and some said afterwards that it was clear the President was in mid-speech.

Tucker Carlson (with whom I worked at CNN and personally like) also belongs on this list for offering a spirited defense of Munro’s uncivilized behavior.

 

1. President Obama Says The Private Sector Is “Doing Fine”

While speaking about the economy at a press conference earlier this month, President Obama said, “The private sector is doing fine.” By some measurements, that may be true. But by making such a declarative statement, he handed his opponents a perfect opportunity to label him as “out of touch.” Hours later, he walked his comment back.

His gaffe was reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” gaffe. Neither sentence will likely determine the outcome of November’s election. But expect to see Republicans use President Obama’s gaffe against him—and probably with some success— in hundreds of ads this fall.

 

Bonus Video 1: Candidate Covers His Bases…In an Unusual Way

One week before the Supreme Court issued its verdict on “Obamacare,” Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock pre-taped his response to the outcome.

Of course, he didn’t know what the outcome would be, so he pre-taped a response for four different options. That may not be terribly unusual – but the fact that all four videos made their way onto the web was.

Here’s Stephen Colbert’s rather hilarious take.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert News Alert – Obamacare Supreme Court Ruling – Richard Mourdock’s Responses
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

 

Bonus Video 2: Honeywell Security Rips Microphone Away From Reporter

Mike Elk, a reporter with the progressive In These Times, tried to ask Honeywell CEO Dave Cote a question during an event at the U.S. Capitol. During his question, a burly security person ripped the microphone out of Elk’s hands, which turned a mere adversarial question into a viral video sensation.

Later that day, Mr. Elk accused Honeywell’s “external communications director Rob Ferris of barricading him in a room for several minutes,” according to PR Daily.

Had Mr. Cote simply answered the question (heck, even if he had dodged it), this would have been a non-story.

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Today’s Blown Supreme Court Call On CNN And Fox News

Written by Brad Phillips on June 28, 2012 – 1:48 pm

Earlier today, both CNN and the Fox News Channel misreported the Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Obama’s health care law.

Screengrab by Jason Keath

I hammered CNN on Twitter for its mistake. Well-known investor Henry Blodget took me to task, arguing that “News orgs will always make mistakes…I’m sure they’re ripshit about it. Someone will probably get fired. But it is what it is. And it’s now old news.”

With all due respect, I believe that he couldn’t be more wrong. The issue isn’t hammering a news organization for a single mistake, but for failing to learn from high-profile mistakes the network—and other media organizations—have made in the past.

CNN, for example, did a lot of journalistic introspection after retracting its infamous “Operation Tailwind” story in 1998. But that didn’t stop the network from incorrectly calling Florida for Al Gore two years later (disclosure: I worked for CNN at the time, but had no influence over that call)

And last year, CNN was again part of the story when many major news organizations—most notably National Public Radio—incorrectly reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died. This appeared on NPR’s blog:

“2:24 p.m. ET: CNN reports it too has confirmed that Giffords was killed.”


They’re not alone. In 2004, The New York Post splashed John Kerry’s Vice Presidential choice on its front page: “Dem picks (Dick) Gephardt,” blared the headline. Except he didn’t. John Edwards got the nod.


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President Obama’s Supreme Victory

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 28, 2012 – 11:33 am

This morning’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate—and the majority of the Affordable Care Act—is a huge victory for the Obama Administration. 

By a 5-4 verdict, The Supreme Court decided that the President’s signature health care legislation, commonly known as “ObamaCare,” will stand. The Court appears only to have thrown out a provision that would penalize states for not expanding their Medicaid rolls.

It’s impossible to analyze the High Court’s decision without considering what it means for November’s presidential election.

Most importantly, by winning today, President Obama avoids the stench of being framed as a political “loser” who wasted a massive amount of political capital on an unconstitutional bill. His victory will allow him to campaign on the Bill’s key provisions: providing health care to 30 million Americans by 2022 who otherwise wouldn’t have it, doing away with pre-existing conditions and lifetime insurance caps, and adding children up to age 26 to their parents’ insurance policies.

Republicans have a bigger messaging challenge. Mitt Romney is a flawed spokesperson for the anti-mandate message, since he supported an individual mandate while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Plus, other prominent conservatives—Newt Gingrich comes to mind—until recently supported the individual mandate.

The breakdown of the Court’s decision also complicates their messaging strategy. The swing vote upholding ObamaCare belonged to conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee. That prevents conservatives from running against a “liberal” court.

But Republicans have a couple of potentially potent openings. First, the Court decided that the individual mandate would survive as a “tax,” despite the Obama Administration’s earlier insistence that it wasn’t one. That allows Republicans to accuse President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class. Sarah Palin, for example, was quick to tweet this morning that, “Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.”

Second, ObamaCare remains deeply unpopular with many voters. If Mitt Romney runs on repealing it—and it appears that he will—he may help energize portions of the G.O.P. base and boost fundraising.

Two other big losers today are CNN and Fox News, both of which initially reported that the Court killed the individual mandate. But the biggest media loser of the day is CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who predicted in March that “This law looks like it’s going to be struck down.” His words serve as an important reminder to spokespersons that issuing highly speculative predictions is a bad idea that can badly undermine your credibility.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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April 2012: The Five Worst Video Media Disasters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 30, 2012 – 6:10 am

Racial epithets, communists, anti-woman sentiment, and uninhibited profanity.

The most recent episode of Mad Men, you say? Nope. That nonsense didn’t end in 1968.

Without further ado, here are the five worst video media disasters of April 2012!

5. Fox Commentator Drops The F-Bomb On The Air

It’s not so much that liberal commentator Bob Beckel said the f-word with gusto on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show. It’s his reaction that makes this clip priceless. Mr. Beckel didn’t know they were on the air – and his tonal shift from defiance to finger-pointing to contrition unfolds in a couple of highly amusing minutes. 

Although this clip only ranks at number five on the list, it’s my personal favorite of the month.

 

4. Washington, DC Councilman Marion Barry Blasts Asian Business Owners

Former DC mayor and current councilman Marion Barry slammed Asians when he said: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go.”

Well, at least it’s not like he’s the chair of DC’s Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which is responsible for Asian issues, right? Oh, wait, he is? Wow. That’s quite a gaffe.

 

3. Look Out, Joseph McCarthy. You Have Competition.

Did you know that there are between 78 to 81 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who are members of the Communist Party?

Nope, that’s not a headline from 1954. That McCarthy-esque statement came from Rep. Allen West (R-FL) during a town hall meeting earlier this month, evoking the worst days from the Red Scare.

I’m just waiting for someone to ask him, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

DID YOU MISS THE TEN WORST MEDIA DISASTERS OF 2011? CLICK HERE TO CATCH UP.

2. Football Coach Pays Players to Injure Competitors

In a remarkably violent and vulgar audio tape, former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was caught offering players money to injure members of the opposing team. About one player, he said:

“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head…we want his head sideways.” About another player, he said, “we fuckin’ take out that outside ACL.”

 

Mr. Williams’ disgusting rant earned him an indefinite suspension from the NFL. May he never spend another moment on a professional, college, high school, or youth football field.

 

1. Hilary Rosen Slams Ann Romney

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen handed Republicans a giant cudgel when she said that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life.” Many women were genuinely offended at Ms. Rosen’s assertion, especially given that Ms. Romney was a stay at home mother who raised five boys.

Ms. Rosen should have known better, especially since these types of comments have drawn scrutiny in the past. In 1992, Hillary Clinton caused her husband’s campaign unnecessary heartache when she declared that, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”

Ms. Rosen’s comment, which helped Republicans neutralize the “war on women,” quickly drew condemnation from within her own party. Within days, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, White House Spokesman Jay Carney, and Campaign Communications Director David Axelrod all condemned her remark. 

 

Bonus 1: Woman-Lover Herman Cain Says Men Are Better Informed

Why do men support Mitt Romney more than women? It’s because men are better informed, according to former GOP frontrunner Herman Cain. Is it me, or can you not wait for this “war on women” to end?

 

Bonus 2: West Virginia Senate Candidate Compares Smoking Ban to Hitler

John Raese (R-WV) thinks that a smoking ban is the “same thing” as Adolf Hitler’s policy that forced Jews to wear a Star of David so they could be more easily identified. A hint to all politicians and pundits: the Hitler/Nazi analogy rarely works.

 

Bonus 3: CNN Reporter Says F-Word And N-word Live On Air

While quoting a Facebook page of an Oklahoma criminal suspect, veteran CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti used a rather vulgar phrase. I understand why she wouldn’t want to dilute the stark language by replacing epithets with euphemisms. But on CNN, which is blared in businesses, restaurants, airport terminals and hotel lobbies across the country? Bad idea, and Ms. Candiotti should have known better. 

 


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Eight Famous Presidential Visits To Late Night TV (Video)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 26, 2012 – 6:12 am

President Obama appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night and participated in a recurring bit called “Slow Jamming The News.”

Almost immediately, conservatives began attacking the President’s appearance as un-presidential.

Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson, for example, called his appearance “nutso,” and said, “I personally do not agree with the highest office of the land, the most important figure in the world going on these comedy shows. I think it lowers the status of the office.”

Is she right? Do these types of appearances lower the status of the office? First, watch the clip below to decide for yourself whether this skit went too far:

Ms. Carlson is right that this is all very new: President Obama is the first U.S. president to appear on a late night television comedy program during his presidency. But late night appearances are almost de rigueur for presidential or vice presidential candidates these days – and have been for more than a half-century. Here are seven examples of candidate appearances on comedy programs:

June 16, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy appears on Jack Parr’s Tonight Show:

 

1968: Richard Nixon delivers a signature line on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In:

 

March 13, 1975: Ronald Reagan appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (although he was not a candidate at the time, he announced his candidacy for the 1976 race months later)

 

1992: Bill Clinton plays sax on The Arsenio Hall Show:

 

2000: George W. Bush delivers a Top Ten list on Late Night with David Letterman:

 

 

2008: Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin raps on Saturday Night Live (presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain also appeared on different episodes)

 

March 2012: Mitt Romney appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:

 

Candidates regularly appear on late night comedy shows to display their “human” sides and to appeal to younger voters. It’s often a smart political decision, since many independent voters base their decisions primarily on personal factors, not policy or ideological ones.

Ms. Carlson’s angst may be legitimate, and it’s fair to argue that the President should uphold a certain level of dignity. But I couldn’t find any evidence that Ms. Carlson spoke out against Mr. McCain’s or Ms. Palin’s appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2008. In fact, her weekend counterparts at the time called Sarah Palin’s appearance on the show – the one in which she “raised the roof” during a ludicrous rap – “hilarious,” “great,” and “clever.”

Is Carlson’s line really that it’s fine for a Republican or Democratic nominee to appear on these shows, but not the sitting president? It’s her right to believe that, but I see it as a distinction without a difference. If anything, it seems to me that a presidential aspirant has to work harder to be seen as presidential than the incumbent.

The debate, therefore, is somewhat predictable, with pundits on both sides playing a set role and performing set lines, as if on cue. Appearances on late night comedy programs are good if the pundit likes the candidate, and bad if they don’t.

To answer the question posed by this post, President Obama definitely explored new turf in his appearance. But Americans are used to people in power appearing on these shows – candidates Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush (and others) paved the way – and Mr. Obama’s appearance is a logical continuation of that tradition.

 

President Obama appears on Late Night With David Letterman in September 2012

 

An increasingly diffuse audience means that politicians have to use different means to reach their targets. And President Obama was perfectly on message. I think this appearance was on the right side of the line, if only barely. But expect to see a lot more of them from future presidents.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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