What President Obama’s skeet shooting photo tells us

February 4, 2013

The White House's decision to release a photo of President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David in order to quiet chatter that he had exaggerated about his firearm usage in an interview with the New Republic is a prime example of the perils of being the first president of the social media age.


President Obama shoots skeet at Camp David. Photo by Pete Souza.

While Obama and his inner circle pride themselves on their lack of drama and their tendency not to overreact to the political winds that buffet Washington (but are little felt outside of the nation's capital), they have repeatedly shown a keen awareness of and concern for issues that would have likely been considered beneath most past Administrations.

The prime example of that hyper-awareness is Obama's decision to directly address lingering questions about whether or not he was born in the United States by appearing in the press briefing room with a copy of his birth certificate. (The White House also released a photo of his long form birth certificate.)

"We are not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers," Obama said at the time.

What this White House knows is that there are no small stories any more. Thanks to the growth of social media and the fracturing of the traditional media, stories can survive and thrive in ways they never could even a decade ago. As we have written before, it's impossible to distinguish between a molehill and a mountain in politics anymore because today what looks like a minor distraction could tomorrow become a major problem.

Which brings us back to the thinking of the White House in releasing a photo of Obama using a gun. In the wake of Obama's interview with TNR, White House press secretary Jay Carney had been asked -- and refused to answer -- questions about the details of Obama's skeet shooting. (For the full treatment of the White House's reaction to the skeet shooting questions, read our Fact Checker piece here.)

With Obama set to travel to Minnesota Monday to make a pitch for his gun control proposals, the president and his team knew that his own skeet shooting habits were threatening to overshadow the broader attempt to build momentum for his legislation in Congress. And so, to defuse that budding storyline and to re-focus the debate where they wanted it, the White House put out the skeet shooting photo Saturday morning.

There's no question that Obama and his senior advisers view the "does he/does he not shoot skeet" story with contempt. But, there is also no question that they have come to understand that these sorts of stories must be dealt with in a decisive manner. Why? Because if they aren't, the power of Twitter as well as narrowly-cast partisan websites/radio shows/TV shows can amplify them to the point that the President has to address them anyway but only after losing control of his message for a day or week or even a month.

Obama and his senior advisers may not like that reality, but they have come to accept it. It's the realpolitik of the social media age.

GOP launches pragmatic recruitment project: The American Crossroads super PAC is launching a new project aimed at recruiting electable Republicans and helping them through primaries with more conservative opponents.

The New York Times's Jeff Zeleny reports the project, called the "Conservative Victory Project," is aimed at avoiding repeats of the situations in the Missouri and Indiana Senate races in 2012, in which the GOP nominated very conservative candidates who wound up taking extreme positions that made them unelectable.

Conservative groups say the group is trying to fix something that's not broken.

"Rather than listening to the grassroots and working to advance their principles, the establishment has chosen to declare war on its party's most loyal supporters," said the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group started by former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). "If they keep this up, the Republican Party will remain in the wilderness for decades to come."

Tisei won't run for Senate: Former Massachusetts state senator Richard Tisei will not run for the GOP nomination in the Massachusetts special election, he announced Saturday.

"Unfortunately, the timing is simply not right for me to do so -- deeply as I feel about the need to strongly compete in this election," Tisei said in a statement. "It was also my desire to make this decision as quickly as possible so that other potential candidates would be able to consider whether they should run."

Tisei made a name for himself as the GOP's lieutenant governor nominee in 2010 and then falling just shy of ousting Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012.

Other potential GOP candidates include businessman and former Navy Seal Gabriel Gomez, former governor Bill Weld and former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey. There's even some talk that Ann Romney could run.

Fixbits:

Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Chuck Hagel "seemed unimpressive and unprepared" for his confirmation hearing.

Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns becomes the second Republican to commit to supporting Hagel.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) isn't saying yet whether he'll support the assault weapons ban.

Reid stands by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), despite the senator's mounting problems.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defends the administration's policy of using drone strikes.

Vice President Biden jokes that Obama "sends me to places that he doesn’t want to go."

Rick Perry is urging the Boy Scouts to stand by its policy prohibiting gay members.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy (R) resigns after reports of late-night phone calls with women who were not his wife.

Former Colorado state House speaker and 2010 Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D) will run against Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) in 2014.

Must-reads:

"In immigration debate, same-sex marriage comes to the fore" -- David Nakamura and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Which G.O.P. House Members Might Support Immigration Reform?" -- Micah Cohen, New York Times

"Battered California Republicans Find Hope in a Long Shot" -- Adam Nagourney, New York Times

"Cory Booker's rough primetime debut" -- Maggie Haberman, Politico

"Why immigration reform in 1986 fell short" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"New Jersey Democrats, focused on Chris Christie, watch and wait on Menendez" -- Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · February 3, 2013