WASHINGTON -- Slightly more than a week ago, Miami’s “Pimp with the Limp” DJ Laz from 106.7 WRMA-FM scored an interview that left most of the national political press corps in envy. For several minutes, he and President Barack Obama talked football, television shows, music and pop culture.
"You're big time. You’ve got Pitbull and Flo Rida and all these guys just beating a path to your door," Obama said at one point. "And so I’m hoping that I can get a little of that magic from you in this interview."
History will not remember it as the weightiest of presidential sit-downs. But as the 2012 campaign has geared up, short chats with regionally important but nationally obscure radio hosts have become a norm for the president.
Since July 13, Obama has done at least 26 interviews with non-traditional or alternative media outlets, according to information provided by the campaign. Of those, eight were interviews with "urban outlets," six were with Top 40/R&B/entertainment outlets, two were with sports radio outlets, six were with Spanish-language outlets, two were with student outlets, and two were with women-focused outlets. Sixteen of the 26 interviews were done on the radio.
That may seem like a lot, but the total number of interviews Obama conducted with such outlets is certainly higher. For example, the list the campaign provided doesn't include an interview with Albuquerque's 93.3 KOB-FM Morning, an interview with Obie and Lil Shawn on 95.3 FM in Orlando, or the two interviews that he is doing this week with Steve Harvey and Michael Baisden.
For members of the national press corps, who have felt snubbed by the president's infrequent availability, his use of non-traditional media outlets has been frustrating. Obama's interview with DJ Laz, and his sit-downs with People magazine and Entertainment Tonight (both of which were included in the list the campaign provided), were widely criticized as deliberately planned softballs. His appearance on KOB-FM, during which he was asked what type of superpower he would like to have, was mocked by Republicans, as was his talk with Obie and Lil Shawn, during which he disputed, correctly, the notion that rapper Nicki Minaj had endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"I'm not sure that's actually what happened," he said. "I think she had a song on there, a little rap that said that, but she likes to play different characters. So I don't know what's going on there."
For the campaign, however, the mockery is a small price to pay. Non-traditional media outreach is a well-calculated effort to reach audiences who reside in critical swing states via their preferred forums.
"What the president is doing with his outreach to the black community is what every successful candidate knows he must do -- black radio is the way to go," said James Winston, Executive Director of National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters. "If I'm an African American, I can listen to something on the radio and it is talking to me personally. It is the way to engage the African American community."
"From my interactions with the radio companies I work with every day, they feel like the president has been with them all along, there has been an ongoing connection with the president," Winston added.
Romney has tried a variation of this idea, though his efforts have been less ambitious in scope. The Republican nominee has done some sports radio interviews, and he and his wife, Ann, recently sat down with ABC's "Live! with Kelly and Michael."
But the Romney campaign has, by and large, tried to lean on conservative talk radio or local news stations -- as opposed to non-political outlets -- to help spread the candidate's message. His campaign did not immediately provide a list of alternative outlets on which he's appeared.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Obama's alternative media outreach campaign may be the way it's been conducted under the radar. The campaign has not told the White House press corps about these interviews ahead of time, alerting only the traveling press corps or the local press in the respective media markets. Tim Miller, an official with the Republican National Committee, said the committee only became aware of several radio appearances after being alerted by the station or by scanning the web for unpublicized interviews.
It's not the Obama campaign's job, of course, to ensure that the RNC knows of every sit-down the president does. And a campaign official noted that an advisory of each interview is made public before they occur. The goal, after all, is not to conceal the president's remarks about pop culture or NBA hoops, it's to connect him with different types of audiences.
"The president and this campaign are intent on reaching voters where they are," said an Obama campaign official. "And so, in addition to speaking to the national press, he is also speaking to local press outlets that reach a number of different audiences. While this is a national campaign, this is also a series of state campaigns in a quest to get to 270 [electoral votes]."
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