More than any other president, Barack Obama has exploited late-night TV, as the nation’s first commander in chief to pay in-studio visits to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
One of the motivating factors was for the president to reach younger audiences who may not pay attention to cable news or political blogs, as well as to compensate for an ever-fractured TV audience. It hasn’t just been late night: He’s been on everything from “The View” to ESPN. In other words, in this new media age, less is not more.
But there are hints that that approach may be changing. In John Heilemann’s New York magazine cover story this week on the overhaul in the West Wing, outgoing senior adviser David Axelrod admits that they “overused” Obama.
He tells Heilemann, “There was a period of time in the eighties when the Bears weren’t very good, and they would hand Walter Payton the ball on every play: It was Payton left and Payton right and Payton up the middle. He was the greatest running back of all time, arguably, but still it became kind of a dreary game plan. And, you know, we have one of the great political performers of our time. But I think we degraded that to some degree by using him as much as we did in the ways we did.”
With Obama’s poll numbers improving, it will be interesting to see how he taps into pop culture, if at all, in the coming months. But Axelrod’s comment seems to be an admission that, as hard as it is to reach audiences and get them to listen in the age of the Internet, the solution may not be more exposure, but less, particularly if approval ratings are falling and negative ratings are rising. The dynamics are different for candidates. But Meg Whitman suffered from overexposure in her race for California governor, and, given her rising negative numbers, Sarah Palin may be experiencing the same now.