David Gergen On Obama's Media Skills Despite all the challenges he faces, President Obama is certainly not retreating from public view. Over the past few weeks, he's appeared on everything from the Tonight Show to 60 Minutes to ESPN to two prime-time news conferences.
NPR logo

David Gergen On Obama's Media Skills

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102481025/102481013" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
David Gergen On Obama's Media Skills

David Gergen On Obama's Media Skills

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102481025/102481013" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On Thursday, the president tried out a town hall style forum on the Internet. Speaking to a live audience, he fielded questions that were submitted on the Web and selected by an online vote. The White House reports that more than three-and-a-half million votes were logged and the president noted...

BARACK OBAMA: There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation.


OBAMA: And I don't know what this says about the online audience.


OBAMA: But I just want - I don't want people to think that - this was a fairly popular question, we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.


HANSEN: David Gergen, an advisor to presidents from both parties joins us in the studio. First of all, welcome.

DAVID GERGEN: Thank you.

HANSEN: Can you imagine a question to the president from the press on marijuana, unless it came from High Times magazine?


GERGEN: Well, if the president holds another press conference, he may well call on High Times. He enjoys calling on Stars and Stripes and he calls on Politico and not the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, but they'll have their turn again.

HANSEN: Do you think this president is redefining communication, or does it just seem that way when compared to eight years of a president who had a more difficult relationship with the news media?

GERGEN: And one of the strengths - I was just up on Capitol Hill this week talking to a major figure on the energy/environmental side - and said, you know, what we look to Barack Obama to do for us is to help frame the argument. There's nobody better at doing that right now at framing an argument. And he does that very, very well. So he makes it seem what he's trying to do very reasonable and he makes people who oppose him seem somewhat unreasonable.

HANSEN: Well, do you think the way he's branched into the different media platforms to frame his argument - YouTube, for example, you know, for weekly addresses, is this something generational?

GERGEN: There's no question it's generational. Every president likes to use the medium of this time. In fact, what we know from history is that our best presidents are the ones who are the masters of new media. Teddy Roosevelt made his name into Time and newspaper subscriptions were exploding - the readership was exploding. And he sort of captured the nation's attention.

HANSEN: Would he have been elected had it not been for the Internet? Interesting question.

HANSEN: You know, President Obama is indeed an admirer of President Reagan for that ability to connect with...

GERGEN: That ability alone, I think. I'm not sure it extends to the rest of the...

HANSEN: Well, you worked for President Reagan.

GERGEN: I did.

HANSEN: And strictly from a communication standpoint, can you compare them?

GERGEN: There is this question, of course, you hear in Washington a great deal about, is he overexposed? And I think he could not continue at this pace. This would be unsustainable.

HANSEN: Just as there is some concern about overexposure, do you think there's concern that all of these appearances that he might end up seeming less presidential?

GERGEN: And once you've heard those arguments two or three times, they can lose some of the freshness. So that's one of the things I would be a little concerned about, were I in the White House at the moment.

HANSEN: David Gergen is director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and he has held positions in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations. Thanks so much for coming in.

GERGEN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.