President Obama returned to campaign mode Monday as he capped a day of barnstorming in the economically crippled Elkart, Ind., with his first primetime press conference in an effort to sell the nation on his $800-billion-plus stimulus package.
If the episode was a reminder of how media savvy Obama was as a candidate, it also offered a chance for some in the news media to assess how he has handled the press in his first three weeks as president.
Obama's mini media blitz "seemed to invigorate him and give him some compelling ‘real people' to talk about," wrote ABC News' senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper in an e-mail message. "It helped firm up his narrative that the capital doesn't understand what's really going on out there, however contrived a narrative that may be."
Indeed, Obama's effort to retake control of the narrative began last week, when his administration's media honeymoon officially ended with Tom Daschle's withdrawal as Health & Human Services nominee. Submitting to a round of network-anchor speed-dating in the Oval Office, Obama managed to score points for taking personal responsibility after a rather tone deaf episode.
"He confronted it head on," said Bob Epstein, executive producer of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams. "It seemed planned for him to use the words ‘I screwed up.'"
Monday night's press conference--which was watched by nearly 50 million people across several broadcast and cable news networks--also illustrated the notoriously BlackBerry-addicted president's embrace of new media when he took a question from Sam Stein, a correspondent for liberal Website The Huffington Post, while neglecting some traditional news sources.
"I was very surprised when he called on The Huffington Post," said Jay Wallace, vice president of news editorial at Fox News. "That in itself was sort of a change of strategy for the White House. They've been very in tune to the media and the medium. The average viewer probably didn't notice some of those small things. But for us, we certainly noticed when the Wall Street Journal and some of the more mainstream people who are usually called on were not called on."
"They're all little things," adds Wallace. "But that's the interesting thing about Obama: he really is in tune to how society functions. Whether it's having cocktail parties with Republicans, the guy is really trying to get his message out and adapt to the media that's out there now. He doesn't seem as disconnected as presidents are."
"Of course, that may change in four years," Wallace continued. "But right now, you have this president now who seems pretty hip to everything the rest of us are doing."