It’s not hard for President Obama to make news. Every public appearance and utterance is covered by myriad media outlets. But to really own the news cycle, the White House doesn’t take any chances: It blitzes reporters, and the public, with a full-on assault from its formidable press shop that is virtually impossible for opponents — namely, Republicans — to match.
Take Wednesday’s rollout of the bombshell that Obama would use a rare recess appointment to buck congressional GOP opposition and unilaterally install Richard Cordray as head of a federal consumer watchdog agency. Though reporters had anticipated such a move for weeks since Cordray’s nomination was blocked by the Senate, the White House played the announcement to maximum effect through a series of well-timed news nuggets that kept up a steady drumbeat of coverage.
The story began with a orchestrated leak from “senior administration officials” in the morning to the Associated Press, the world’s largest media organization, which reported that Obama would appoint Cordray during an appearance together in Ohio, Cordray’s home state. Leaking the story ahead of the official announcement is an age-old strategy aimed at drumming up instant buzz by setting off a scramble among the rest of the press corps to match the news — and it worked as other news organizations, including the Washington Post, quickly got confirmation from their own administration sources and followed with their own stories.
That was just the beginning of the onslaught, however.
Just in case the mainstream media and opinion bloggers weren’t sufficiently broadcasting the White House message — that Obama was fed up with Congress’s obstinacy and determined to act if legislators would not — the administration posted its own blog post on the White House Web site.
Authored by communications director Dan Pfeiffer, the 498-word item marked the first on-the-record confirmation of the big announcement. White House press aides helpfully e-mailed the post and online link to reporters.
Next up, it was time for press secretary Jay Carney, the public face of the press operation, to weigh in — which he did aboard Air Force One en route to Cleveland during the so-called “press gaggle” — an informal briefing with traveling reporters.
“Carney spent much of the gaggle discussing Cordray,” Amie Parnes, a White House reporter for The Hill, wrote in her press pool report summary, which landed in hundreds of in-boxes shortly before noon. “Carney called the appointment ‘a no brainer.’ Cordray, he said, ‘won a majority of support in the Senate yet Republicans refused to allow him an up or down vote. This is a shame.’”
By then, the Cordray news was competing for primacy in the news cycle with the results of Tuesday night’s Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa.
Not long after Air Force One touched down, Obama met with a Cleveland family named the Easons who the White House said nearly lost their home thanks to predatory lenders during the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession. Another pool report from reporters at the scene quoted Obama for the first time discussing Cordray with the family.
Obama “blamed the ‘trickery and abuse’ of the non-banking financial sector for the Easons’ woes and said ‘we’re going to have to do something about it,’” according to the pool report. “He added, ‘we’re so glad that we’ve got somebody like Rich Cordray, who’s willing to take this on and make sure that families like the Easons who do the right thing. . .are not taken advantage of and are able to live in security and in dignity in their golden years.’”
The media pumped sufficiently, Obama took the stage with Cordray at Shaker Heights High, delivering a 25-minute speech to a packed house and railing on Republican opposition to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The White House wasn’t through yet.
Less than an hour after Obama wrapped up his remarks, Huffington Post posted a 651-word column titled “Standing Up for Consumers” and written by none other than. . .Cordray. At 2:34 p.m., the White House, which presumably had delivered the column to Huffington Post on an embargoed basis, then e-mailed the column to its press list. It marked the first comments from Cordray himself.
Through this multilayered strategy, the White House dropped new tidbits each hour from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., successfully keeping reporters busy, the administration’s views at the top of the story and controlling the message even as Republicans tried, through press releases and e-mailed statements, to cut through the White House spin with their own outrage.