Obama’s media strategy expands into long-form conversations
The recent conversations are an attempt at reconnecting Americans to the president before they say goodbye to him
The novelist tossed out phrases such as “religious humanism” and “the sinister other.” The interviewer asked her about her upbringing and writing process.
At an hour and 7,000 thoughtful words, the discussion sounded like a college seminar or an independent bookstore reading.
But this was part of the White House’s new media strategy.
Even for a president well-practiced in using nontraditional media, the conversation in September between Barack Obama and writer Marilynne Robinson — and a few others like it conducted in recent months — charted new territory in presidential communications.
Slow paced, personal, nearly divorced from the news of the day and sometimes distributed by the White House, a series of “conversations” between Obama and prominent figures in arts, letters and entertainment captures a White House experimenting with ways to reconnect Americans to the president before they say goodbye to him.
They also offer a glimpse of the president’s interests and thinking as he looks at that next chapter.
“We had this idea that why don’t I just have a conversation with somebody I really like and see how it turns out?” Obama told Robinson, before diving into mutual rumination about Christianity, fear and politics that ran in two installments in The New York Review of Books.
Not all the chosen conversationalists are quite so high brow:
Obama recently cruised around the White House grounds in a 1963 Corvette Stingray coupe with Jerry Seinfeld for an episode of the Web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
He sat for an hour in comic Marc Maron’s garage in June for the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron.”
In March, the White House invited David Simon, a former journalist and writer of “The Wire” and urban dramas, to discuss criminal justice.
British naturalist Sir David Attenborough met with Obama in July for a conversation that revealed a bit how Obama’s Hawaiian and Kenyan roots have animated his fight against climate change.
“We want to give the president opportunities to talk in more expansive ways about big ideas and subjects,” White House spokesman Eric Shultz said of some of these conversations. “Our goal is give people some insight into how he sees things that are not necessarily at the top of the news cycle at that moment. We believe when you feel like you really understand someone’s thinking, you understand their decision-making.”