Obama's team has mastered the art of targeting audiences, bypassing "traditional media" (that's us!) and going for outlets with a specific audience. (BET is one of the top-rated cable news outlets for African Americans, though VH-1 has quietly overtaken them in black prime time viewership. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find any special news programming targeting blacks on the former video channel. )
In the weeks before the November election, Obama appeared on Steve Harvey's show, which reaches 7 million African Americans, to urge them to vote. How about reaching young people so they would sign up for health care? Yuck it up with Zach Galifianakis on "Between Two Ferns." And on Tuesday, Telemundo will air Obama's sit-down interview with José Díaz-Balart, "which will focus on immigration and other subjects of interest to the Hispanic community."
Go where the constituency group is to deliver a specific message; mainstream outlets will cover it just the same.
Part of the interview will reach young African Americans who watch "106 & Park," which bills itself as the No. 1 "music variety show on cable" among adults 18-49. The rest of the 20-minute interview will air before a reality TV show called "Nellyville" starring the rapper in a time slot where a talk show much like "The View" typically airs.
Asked why Obama chose BET, here's what press secretary Josh Earnest had to say about this choice:
We have seen a lot of young people, particularly young of color, have been pretty outspoken in their concerns about the lack of trust that exists between many local communities and the local law enforcement officials in the community sworn to serve and protect them. The president wanted to communicate to them a few things. ... The president wanted them to know the issues were legitimate to raise and are issues the president takes very seriously.
But it's not so clear that this strategy makes sense on this particular issue, which Obama has said involves the entire American family and is "deeply rooted in our society ... deeply rooted in our history." Asked about the other people who have joined African Americans in concerns over the grand jury verdict (and are presumably a part of this history and struggle too), Earnest said: "The message the president has for them is the same."
(Obama also did an interview with Stephen Colbert airing tonight; perhaps that's where he will deliver yet another message.)
But because Obama's interview is on BET, the framing of this interview will be this: "Obama addresses black America." It's a sort of half-answer to the calls by some that he say something more and something different — that he be more heartfelt and less detached. The set-up gives Obama a chance to shift from being the "arbiter of how black people feel" to a feeling black man in front of a black audience. It's the next best thing to a trip to Ferguson.
In specifically addressing young people of color — a group that organized and rallied behind Obama big time in both of his campaigns — Obama is also suggesting that the protest movement on the streets in cities across the country and dominating social media and the blogosphere is akin to other social movements, which were largely engineered by young people. (Martin Luther King, for example, was 25 when the organizing around the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.)
Obama has said these conversations will continue. Whether those conversations will ever be aimed at particular groups, BET-style, or even be elevated to the kind of "national conversation" that recognizes that race relations involve more than black people is yet to be seen.
If the past is any guide, then probably not.
David Nakamura contributed to this post.