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People don't listen to the president, cont'd

From Playbook: “625,000 Tune in to CNBC for President's Town Hall … moderated by CNBC's John Harwood … more than 450,000 viewers behind #1 [Fox News Channel] (1.08M) in the hour, but ahead of CNN (436K) and MSNBC (217K). The re-air on MSNBC at 3pmET drew 369,000 viewers.”

So less than three-tenths of 1 percent bothered to tune in for Obama's live townhall on Monday. This is why it's difficult for the White House -- no matter who's in it -- to use speeches and public events to dominate American politics in the way many observers would like them to. Americans just aren't interested in listening to the president very often.

By Ezra Klein  | September 22, 2010; 10:31 AM ET
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on the other hand, CNBC numbers are probably triple what they usually are for that time slot...too lazy to check though.

Posted by: gonzosnose | September 22, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

When president Obama appointed Summers and Geithner, and then reappointed Bernanke, I got the real message loud and clear. There is no point in listening to anything he says after that to try and spin away his close alliance with a financial oligarchy.

Posted by: mrnegative | September 22, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Granted, this isn't 2008. But Obama relinquished the hopeful demographic when he took office and got down to realpolitik. The hopeful ones were a major part of his former viewership. I wonder if he can ever reprise the music of those earlier speeches; if so, he had better reprise it soon.

Posted by: CrowIII | September 22, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

That's why you have to have a messaging strategy that goes beyond an isolated event or a speech. Your surrogates have to be out there saying the exact same thing over and over until it starts penetrating the national consciousness, until it hurts. We Democrats are too self aware to have true message discipline; instead, we roll our eyes and presume that everyone gets the superiority of our ideas. The Republicans do get it - every candidate is given media training and knows their talking points like a mantra - and they are beating us in the message wars.

Just look at health care. We went up against the big bad insurance companies, eliminated pre-existing conditions, enhaced coverage for young people and bent the cost curve downward and a large majority still doesn't like it because they think HCR impinges on their "freedom," standard issue GOP phrasing. The freedom to be diagnosed with cancer and choose not to have coverage, I guess. Some year we as Dems might wake up, but by then we'll be in the minority again.

Posted by: deanarms | September 22, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

i guess that toning out happens when you're seemingly on the campaign trail forever and speech after speech sounds like a repeat of the last hundred of them.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 22, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone *would* watch a show like that. Nothing we haven't heard a million times before, and as much as we dump on the media you have to assume that if anything really important is said, somebody'll report it the next day. Why would I spend my valuable time listening to the President answer questions from idiots?

Posted by: simpleton1 | September 22, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Maybe he was aiming to reach the people who watch CNBC?

I don't even remember seeing the townhall advertised anywhere. But then, I primarily watch Bravo.

Posted by: ideallydc | September 22, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I dont think Barack Obama talking to people who watch CNBC makes your argument. That was meant to be watched by elites, after all, the rest of us are at working or out looking for work in the middle of the day not watching a network dedicated to the whining of rich business interests.

The only kind of people who think Obama or any president needs to constantly keep appearing on TV are political obsessives.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | September 22, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

I listened, and it was a very informative way to spend an hour, both for content and to be reminded of the really impressive command of subject matter and message this president has. If you bother to listen.

I think he needs to do more prime-time press conferences, though perhaps people don't listen to those either, and the questions from the press are always so infernally stupid. There's really no way he can out-chatter the chattering classes.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 22, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Live viewers are baseline numbers. A good exchange between the president and a citizen wins many more eyeballs via recirculation through the news and social media.

To be sure, "good" too often means "embarrassing" to the official. All the more reason to be sharp during town hall meetings.

BTW, the White House could do a *much* better job of using display graphics....

Posted by: cornmb1 | September 22, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

What was he doing kissing the rears of CFO's and hedge fund managers?

Was this meeting just for high-end whiners, or was that all that was reported.

If it was just for the $250k+ crowd, just why did the WH think it was wise to go kiss their behinds now? I am missing something...

The african american woman, who the media assumes is his base (because of her race), was a CFO -- and worried about $50,000+ tuition for her kid. For most folks, that's the whole family budget. not, just the education portion.

Jeez, do any pols understand that most americans don't pull down $250k+? I'm confused.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | September 22, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Most people don't consume news from primary sources, but from secondary sources such as blogs, and third-generation sources like chain emails. But trying to explain this to Democrats is like trying to explain colors to someone who was born blind.

Plus, Obama's really not a great off-the-cuff speaker. He drones, he's not much fun to watch in that mode. And you know he's never going to wander off topic, whereas with someone like Bill Clinton, you never do know what they're going to say. People like that.

However, I think you're wrong. There are some things he could do that would get the message across. He could have attended any of the free healthcare clinics held across the country, or worked in a food bank -- things that would let people know he SEES them.

Posted by: uberblonde1 | September 22, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

If people expected Pres. Obama to say something new and exciting or even controversial, they might have tuned in. At this point, his opponents know what to expect and his supporters, well, aren't as motivated. It's puzzling why Obama held the town hall meeting on CNBC in the first place. It wasn't meant to shore up the liberal base, was it?

Also, believe it or not, not all cable tv packages include CNBC. I'd guess more viewers have ESPN and Fox News/CNN than CNBC/Bloomberg.

Posted by: tuber | September 22, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

If a president really wants to cut through the noise, it shouldn't be so hard. Obama just isn't very creative.

The press will cover something that's novel. Why recycle the same old speeches and soundbites from behind a podium? Use visual aids and nice graphs, for chrissakes! Have a detailed half-hour talk with the American people about two or three big issues, like Ross Perot did. Or take a page from Steve Jobs, Lawrence Lessig, or numerous TED Talk speakers and make your message big, smart, in depth, and clear. It will come across as more trustworthy than soundbites. Broadcast it during prime time.

Posted by: scott_teresi | September 22, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

You lefties still don't get it.

Odumba has been yakking for 2 years. Been there, done that, heard it.

He's a broken record. Naturally he is going to be ignored or tuned out.

Posted by: krazen1211 | September 22, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Betcha he'd have gotten a bigger audience on Fox. :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 22, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

rat-raceparent got it right. Ezra can bemoan the lack of attention paid to a CNBC town hall during the middle of the day, but would you even really want people tuning in? The president was badgered by a CFO complaining that her middle class dream might be over, a recently graduated lawyer, and a hedge fund manager.

My first reaction is that it seemed like a George H.W. Bush moment. What's the price of milk? Oh, middle class isn't someone worried about paying $50,000 for their child's education?

It should have been a town hall, during the evening, held in a place like Ohio, or up-state New York, and featuring construction workers, teachers (not professors), nurses (not doctors), or, god-forbid, the unemployed. The President should have taken the beating and promised that he hasn't forgotten the TRUE middle class.

Posted by: besmit02 | September 22, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

As someone who generally supports what Obama wants/tries to accomplish, I'd make two points. First, more people would listen if he consistently makes sense which he undermines in one of a few ways. He undermines his credibility by trying to pretend that Republicans make sense, by avoiding responsibility for the failures of policy like the stimulus which should have been larger, and by blurring the distinctions between what the Republicans want and what his administration wants often by keeping much of the negotiations in private rooms. His motivation in this regard is to be seen as a moderate, but it's really pointless, leading to bad policy while failing to accomplish desired goal.

My second point is that while many people probably will miss what he has to say. People also hear, read and see a lot in a more delayed way with new media. People can get reactions or summaries before choosing to pay more attention, making people like Ezra that more important for pointing it out.

One last thing I'll point out, keeping the people's ear is difficult today. It helps if the President doesn't seem to repeat himself a lot, or more importantly if things are changing so that he has new things, a new environment to talk about. This would be among those really important reasons for adopting really good policy and in its absence fighting a really good, consistent fight with a consistent message against the opponents of good policy, without blurring the lines.

Posted by: bcbulger | September 22, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

After the 400th speech from Obama, I figured, "What could he say that I haven't heard before?"

Posted by: kingstu01 | September 22, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

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