By COKIE ROBERTS AND STEVEN V. ROBERTS
The top Super Bowl highlight was not Peyton Manning struggling or Renee Fleming singing or even that adorable puppy nuzzling a horse in the Budweiser commercial. It was Bill O’Reilly grilling Barack Obama.
The Fox News commentator was respectful but tough. The president was testy but forthcoming — even admitting that administration officials had made “boneheaded decisions” in investigating the tax status of conservative groups. The 10-minute session did not provide any surprising revelations, but it did offer a useful glimpse into Obama’s thinking and temperament.
The most striking thing about the interview is that fresh insights into Obama’s frame of mind are so rare. This White House has been extremely diligent, and successful, in controlling the images and information the public receives about their president.
Of course every president, of either party, wants to manage the news to his own advantage. But it’s hard to argue with David Sanger, a veteran Washington correspondent for the New York Times when he says, “This is the most closed control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
To be fair, Team Obama would be guilty of malpractice if they didn’t use all the new communications tools now available to them. They have created what we call the OBN, the Obama Broadcasting Network — a complex of social media platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Flickr and YouTube — to communicate directly with supporters outside the filter of annoying journalists like O’Reilly and Sanger.
That system was on full display last week around the State of the Union address. On whitehouse.gov, the hub of the OBN, folks were urged not just to watch the speech but to participate actively as broadcasters, producers and content providers. Handy charts, case studies and talking points reinforcing the president’s themes were displayed with a big “share” button right there on the screen.