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Obama: The last great TV candidate? We'll see tonight

Democratic presidential TV candidate Barack Obama is going to seem like he is everywhere on TV tonight thanks in part to a last minute flurry of interview bookings and media buys.

And by the time he finishes his last appearance at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central with Jon Stewart, anyone who hasn't yet figured it out, might just come to understand that Obama so far, at least, has been the best TV candidate since John F. Kennedy in 1960 -- yes, better even than Ronald Reagan and his handlers were in using the medium.

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The new great truth in media and politics for the longest time this year was that Obama will be America's "first cybergenic president" if he is elected in November. (I first wrote about this story in August.)

The basic idea is that like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who were the first to grasp the importance of radio and TV, respectively, Obama is the first to understand the many ways in which the Internet and other new media are transforming politics and American life. 
 
To be sure, Obama's campaign has made innovative and wise use of the Web and other new media. But if you want to be McLuhanesque about it, a more apt description of Obama should he get elected might be the "last TV president." That's the underanalyzed story of the political year: how skilled and attractive a TV candidate Obama has been.

Obama and his handlers seem to understand that as they are about to start his biggest one-night TV push of the campaign during the dinner hour tonight in an interview with anchorman Charles Gibson on ABC's World News.

Earlier in the month, Obama's campaign had reached agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox and MSNBC to present a 30-minute "campaign-related program" at 8 p.m. tonight on each of those outlets. The price to buy the airtime to show this commercial: $1 million for each of the major broadcast networks.

The campaign had also approached ABC with the same offer, but the network was initially reluctant to move Pushing Daisies, an hour long drama, out of the 8 p.m. time period. By the time ABC-Disney executives decided to shift the show, Obama had moved on to the cable channel MSNBC.

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But on Tuesday, Obama covered the ABC gap by agreeing to an interview today with Gibson that will appear of the network newscast tonight.

Furthermore, Comedy Central announced that Obama will appear at 11 tonight on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. That appearance was also finalized Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the campaign extended its media buy late Tuesday for the 8 p.m. campaign commercial to cable channels BET and Univision -- targeting ethnic audiences.

This is not the first instance in which a presidential candidate has bought into prime time. H. Ross Perot did it in 1992, and Richard Nixon did so in 1968. Kennedy also did it in 1960 with a 30-minute buy.

But for all the talk from the campaign of John McCain about how much money Obama is spending on the buy, think of all the related "free" media the Democrat is getting -- like every story you will read in a newspaper or online about it today. Yes, that includes this one -- and the review of Obama's TV push that I will have tonight right here on this blog after he finishes on Stewart. (So, stop back tonight or tomorrow morning.)

All in all, you would have to say Obama has already received a pretty solid return on his investment of $5 million or so in media advertising money. But who would not cover his appearances tonight down the home stretch of this historic campaign?

It's TV, not the Internet, that is the big story when it comes to Obama and media. And that's historic, too, because this could be the last time the really important stuff in a presidential election happens on that old media screen.

(Above: Associated Press file photo of Barack Obama on the campaign trail by Alex Brandon)

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