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Obama, Walters, TV and the Symbolic Presidency

There is nothing like network ego, is there? Look who gets tops billing in tonight’s big interview on ABC with President-elect Barack Obama in the show’s title
A Barbara Walters Special: Barack and Michelle Obama.

ABC News released a couple of teaser interview bites with Obama ripping the auto executives who showed up in private jets to bang their tin cups in Congress, and I will include those parts of the interview below. It is good stuff, and the nation has been waiting to hear what Obama thinks of the addiction to excess and privilege that such self-absorbed CEOs have shown despite their failures. On a lighter note, he also talks about trying to keep his BlackBerry -- and even here, he makes a serious point.

This interview tonight is a big deal, and I will be writing about it here at Z on TV after it airs from 10 to 11 p.m.

The interview matters because of the holiday timing and the rhythms of media and American life. It matters, too, because of what Walters represents in the public imagination. And most of all, it matters because it is part of pattern of Obama appearing to undersatnd and starting to use the Symbolic Presidency as well as Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy.

Obama’s grasp of the all-important power of symbols in shaping a nation’s sense of itself is part of what has led me to write about him since August as potentially the last great TV President. He understands that those symbols are circulated to a mass audience and become part of shared consciousness and then collective memory mainly through the media – in this case TV. That’s what I’ll be writing about tonight after the interview airs.

Here’s what Obama told Walters about the auto executives and his fight to keep his BlackBerry.

(Above: ABC Photo of Barbara Walters with Barack and Michelle Obama by George Burns)

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