Former Pressies Warn President-Elect Obama Not to Go Crazy on Web

Former White House press aides worry that his focus on blogs and the Internet could cheapen the office.


By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers.

Technicians prepare for Monday night's seminar on Obama and the press with (from left) former Clinton aide Don Baer, former Ford spokesman Ron Nessen, former newsman Marvin Kalb, Brookings Institution author Stephen Hess, and former Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.

He used the Internet to break fundraising records and win the White House, and now President-elect Barack Obama is expected to expand his reach via a greatly enhanced website. But before he makes any big moves, former White House press aides to several presidents have a warning: Don't become so Web-accessible that it devalues the president's message making. "There is a real challenge and risk," says Don Baer, a former Clinton-era communications boss and former U.S. News staffer.

The risk: "Cheapen the president's message." Obama has been a big proponent of Web communications, using outlets like YouTube to let Americans into his transition. And aides are expected to revamp the popular White House website to get his message out—and around the White House press corps. At a seminar hosted by Stephen Hess, the former Eisenhower aide and Brookings Institution scholar who just penned the witty book What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect, he, Baer, former Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, former Ford spokesman Ron Nessen, and former newsman Marvin Kalb last night reviewed the Obama press operation. First, they gave Obama a passing grade for his recent press conferences. McClellan had high praise for Obama's choice of spokesman, Robert Gibbs, saying that it appears Gibbs has the access to his boss needed to be a good press secretary. And they were high on the use of new technology by the Obama team. But that came with warnings from Baer and others. Baer, for example, suggested that using blogs, Web chats, and video conferences is a good idea, but he said that the White House has to make sure not to overdo it and thus make the president too accessible. He and the others suggested that the new president use other tools in his kit, such as regular press conferences, Oval Office addresses, and major speeches out of town. "There are some risks to familiarity," said Baer.