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Meet the New Media Strategy

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 7, 2006; 12:48 PM

The White House yesterday excitedly announced a new plan to reconnect President Bush with the voters who have soured on him in almost every possible way.

No, it's not a change in policy. It's a new media strategy.

The president, it seems, is getting out of Washington. "Every team changes the playbook every once in a while and this is an opportunity to share what's on his mind but also get a sense of what's on the minds of the people out in the country," presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters at the White House yesterday.

But very little is ever really new at this White House. Just as political guru Karl Rove's plan for the 2006 election is exactly the same as it was in the 2004 election -- make the opposition look weak on national security -- the new media strategy sounds awfully familiar.

It appears to primarily involve routing around the national media and, secondarily, giving the impression that Bush is meeting with real Americans, while keeping dissent at bay.

That's precisely the approach that worked so well in Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. (See, for instance, my October 28, 2004 column.) But it didn't work nearly as well during Bush's subsequent barnstorming for his failed Social Security overhaul proposal. (See, for instance, my February 8, 2005 column.)

Now, I could be wrong in scoffing at Bartlett's insistence that Bush wants to hear what's on the nation's mind. Maybe this time, Bush won't take his bubble on the road.

And today's out-of-town press conference -- which is, indeed, a first for the president -- is taking place after my deadline this morning. So by now you know how that particular gambit turned out. Did the local reporters he called on serve up small-bore softballs, or were they actually less inhibited than their White House press corps colleagues? Regardless, did Bush get knocked off script in any way, or did he stick to his endlessly repeated talking points?

But as of this writing, there's no sign that Bush is really exposing himself to anything new or particularly risky.

Item one: Bush's interview, along with the first lady, with CNN's Larry King last night. As Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times put it, it was "classic Larry King: a warm bath, not a hot seat."

Item two: Bush's unusual, casual dinner in Chicago last night with "opinion leaders" was actually with business leaders. His host the mayor, while a Democrat, has been a huge Bush supporter -- and, ironically, had one of his top aides convicted yesterday on corruption charges brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office.

Item three: His breakfast today, which Bartlett described as being with leaders in the small business community, is with four CEOs, two of whom lead Fortune 500 companies. One of them is called Kraft.


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