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McCain Schools Obama On the Modern Press

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A CNN piece called "Obama says he's been 'very consistent' on Iraq," proves a classic of the "he said/she said" journalism of marketing and perception. It also--again--proves that Democrats don't know how to play that game.

The CNN story reports that on his campaign plane, Obama leveled accusations at the press:

"'I am surprised at how ... the press ... I'm not trying to dump on you guys, but I'm surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured,' Obama said."

That was the first mistake. When marketing, you do not attack the people you're trying to sell--and the press is part of the audience here. You can shame them. You can use fear, uncertainty and doubt to shake their pedestal of status-quo thinking, but you do not accuse. Apple ads don't attack PC users; they attack PCs and insist that PC users deserve better.

You also do not adopt a defensive posture. When was the last time you saw an automobile ad that said, "Honest. We really haven't ignored all warnings on gas prices and served you up a menu of gargantuan SUVs to the detriment of our economy, our security, and our planet. Really, we haven't." Instead, you see ads touting their environmental initiatives to the cloying accompaniment of Enya.

Defensive postures only serve to reinforce the narrative you're trying to deflate. The article states, "Obama denied that he's shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal." It did not state that he "reiterated his goal" or "his commitment." It said "he denied." In other words, "when did you stop beating your wife?"

To prove that Obama's position has been consistent, his operatives should have provided the press with a crib sheet of written, dated quotes, and then used the press briefing to state the positives of Obama's plan and attack McCain's.

Of course, this being "he said/she said" journalism, CNN did no research of its own. Instead, they asked McCain's mouthpiece to respond to Obama's denial, and all he did was misrepresent Obama's position yet again to reinforce what Obama's own defensive posture had already tacitly acknowledged.

"Barack Obama's words," the spokesperson said, "indicated that he also shared John McCain's commitment to securing the peace beforehand."

You come away from this piece with the incorrect impression that Obama has shifted his position on Iraq, and that he is trying to weasel out of having done so.

Democratic candidates have got to learn that they cannot rely on the press to do what they did 30 years ago. High-minded Edward R. Murrow-esque journalism is largely dead, and the "he said/she said" era is here. Nuance does not play. There are no facts. There is spin and there is perception. Obama allowed progressive "Change" to be perceived as his brand. That branding won him the nomination. With his recent campaign of "re-emphasis" he has undercut it. Everything he does and says will now be measured against that branding sin--by both the McCain camp and the press.

No, this is not journalism. It is marketing. And Democratic candidates have got to learn how to use its tools and strategies manipulate the press and sell themselves. Score one for McCain here. The Obama camp just got schooled.