Barack Obama is slated to sit down with the five major television news networks tomorrow, a media play that is almost certain to be part of a broader effort to sell his stimulus package to the American public.
The president will conduct interviews in the Oval Office with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and FOX News on Tuesday afternoon, according to the official White House schedule. The sitdowns come at a delicate time for the president, with concern mounting in Democratic circles that much of the debate over the stimulus has been dominated by the GOP.
Officially, the White House says it is not concerned with how the legislative process has played out. But, in private, party officials have grown acutely frustrated that the Obama White House, Democratic National Committee and congressional Democrats have not mounted a more effective defense of the stimulus package as Republicans seek to tar it as a "spending bill."
Part of the problem seems to be purely administrative. The communications shops at many Democratic outlets are currently in transition stages, owing to new administrations or individuals taking over the institutions.
There have been "zero marching orders" to "push back on the negative, push the positive, or undercut Republicans," said one Democratic official. "I assume it's taking some time to organize internally too..."
Added another -- lamenting -- party strategist: "Democrats have let the Republicans run around willy-nilly, advancing a number of right-wing myths on falsehoods on this recovery package without pushing back with facts."
But another aspect at play is, it seems, fortunate circumstance. The Obama administration knows it doesn't need a single Republican vote to pass the stimulus package -- save, perhaps, a few moderate Republican Senators to vote for cloture. As such, the bipartisan gestures the president makes can be fully rejected and the practical outcome will only make the White House seem above the political fray.
Even so, Republican organization on the stimulus has been a sight to behold -- indeed, a common sight on cable news. While outside groups have begun running television and radio advertisements targeting vulnerable GOP Senators on the recovery package, they have not been supplemented on television and radio talk shows. As documented by the site Think Progress, Republican lawmakers appeared twice as many times as their Democratic colleagues on cable news during the stimulus debate. And this discrepancy has skewed the stimulus debate in critical ways, progressives say.
"From misrepresentations of a partial CBO analysis to falsely claiming ACORN will receive $4.19 billion from the stimulus, the media has continuously misled the American people about the economic recovery package," said Karl Frisch, Senior Fellow at Media Matters.
On Monday, the paradigm took front stage at the White House daily briefing, where press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the Obama administration was losing the framing wars, and growing frustrated a bit in defending the package it supports.
That is not the case, Gibbs replied. "If I can be equally gratuitous, I think there's a tendency in this town, as I said, to cover 7/100ths of 1 percent of a piece of legislation."
But the man who asked that question -- NBC News' Chuck Todd -- seemed unimpressed by the answer. Appearing on MSNBC later that evening, he described private conversations with Democrats who "admit the Republicans have won the spin war here."
"They are calling it a spending bill, not a stimulus bill. It's not being called a jobs bill," he added. "I think that's why the congressional Democrats have been dragged over here tonight, to have another conversation about how to strategize this thing. [Democrats have] lost the core message of what this bill is supposed to be about."