Obama Overexposure Could Spread His Telegenic Message Thin

Obama overexposure could dull his telegenic message.

John Mashek
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Look at the TV screen: It's President Obama conducting two town meetings in California. It's Obama trading jokes with late-night comedian Jay Leno. It's Obama making his picks for winners in the NCAA basketball tournament on ESPN. It's Obama on CBS's popular program 60 Minutes. It's Obama at a prime-time press conference.

There is such a thing as too much Obama and this series of events is in less than one week.

The risk of overexposure can be real for any president, even a young, energetic and articulate Obama. Surely his aides are aware of it or they should be, given the nation's economic stress and the public's genuine worry about the future.

Even given this president's extraordinary communication skills, a steady diet of him can dull his words. He can look like a fixture if his face appears every time a viewer surfs the channels.

Marlin Fitzwater, a highly respected press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush ( also known as Bush 41) cautioned Bush to beware of the Sitcom Syndrome. He explained that even a dominant figure on a popular TV series could eventually wear out his welcome.

"There is such a thing as too much of a good thing," said Fitzwater. "It can look like you are still campaigning full time."

A veteran White House correspondent, speaking anonymously, said that while he thinks Obama exceeds even Reagan and Bill Clinton for his TV skills, he could be on the cusp of being out in public too often.

The potential for a gaffe goes along with the frequency on the tube. In his appearance with Leno, Obama tied his low bowling score to the Special Olympics for the impaired. He was forced to apologize later for treating it as a joke. That unfortunate segment got more attention than Obama's sensible explanation of why the giant AIG scandal erupted.

And some non-sports lovers may wonder why their president is taking valuable time to make out his March Madness picks, especially if they are jobless, or worse. Not everyone is glued to their picks in the office pool.

The flip side of this situation is that Obama may be doing on TV what President Roosevelt did on radio during the Depression of the 1930s. FDR's fireside chats were designed to calm the fears of the public and assure listeners that help was on the way with his New Deal programs.

Similarly, Obama may be using his proven ability on TV to assure voters that his stimulus plan and budget will bring the economy back to life. There is an army of young volunteers out there who have been with Obama since early in his campaign last year and are ready to spread that message.

For his sake, Obama should hope the shadow of FDR is looking out for him.