President Barack Obama's appearance on David Letterman's late-night show Tuesday is riling conservatives up, but in today's diverse media world, it's probably a smart political move.
Obama's critics, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, along with conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity, are ridiculing the president for finding time for Letterman when Obama won't meet personally with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader spoke with Obama by phone last week, but Bibi is seeking a face-to-face session to discuss Iran's nuclear program and other issues important in the Middle East. Obama hasn't agreed to such a session with Netanyahu, while Romney says he would have arranged it if he were president. Romney suggests that Obama is wrong to snub Netanyahu for the Letterman appearance.
But Obama strategists see things differently. They say Obama and Netanyahu talk whenever they need to. And, looking at their overall communications plan, the strategists say a president needs to use various approaches to communicate with Americans because people get their information about politics and government in so many ways. That means going beyond the traditional news conferences and speeches. In addition to Letterman, Obama has already appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The View, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and various comedy-oriented shows on morning radio.
It will be the second time Obama has appeared on Letterman since taking office. The first time was in September 2009. Overall, it will be Obama's seventh time on the show, going back to his years as a senator from Illinois.
In the past, presidents were reluctant to appear on late-night shows because they felt it lowered the stature of the office.
Romney is also trying, somewhat belatedly, to expand his outreach, by appearing with his wife Ann on Live! With Kelly and Michael Tuesday. It will be the candidate's first appearance on daytime TV, and comes at a time when Romney is having trouble courting women voters.
Romney also hopes that by appearing on such programs he can project a more approachable and likable image. Sixty-one percent of voters see Obama as more friendly and likable than Romney, while 27 percent say Romney is more friendly and likable, accrording to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politcs for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.