Monday, December 21, 2009


I know what he was trying to do, but U.S. President Barack Obama committed a rare communications Fumble during his otherwise flawless visit with Oprah Winfrey at the White House which aired last Sunday night. Oprah asked how he thought he was doing so far, as president. Obama replied that he feels he deserves “a solid B plus” and that if he can get his health insurance legislation passed it would even tip him into an A minus. By picking a grade, Obama was then able to rationalize it by pointing to his achievements to date despite being hit with the sharp, deep recession just as he was taking power. I’m sure he felt he was creating an opportunity to reiterate his messages about progress. I say he had that opportunity anyway, by the very nature of the question – but the Fumble was in letting himself get walled in by Oprah’s design (not that she’s anything less than a full-on Obama supporter and hardly a challenging interviewer for him). But by picking a grade, he identified a new sidebar for others – and his critics in particular – to debate. Is he marking himself too high? Too low? What’s he saying? Does he get it? You’re usually damned if you do, when given rigid parameters by an interviewer: “on a scale of 1 to 10 …” It makes for an easy headline and lead on the story, and rarely does the interviewee any favours. The best approach is usually to “leave the numbers for others to decide” and then bridge immediately to your key positioning – as Obama should have done.

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