On September 15, 2011, Steve Thomma visited the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan to talk about his experiences and understanding in Reporting on Presidents and The White House. Thomma is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Distinguished Journalism Prize for Reporting on the Presidency for the year 2010. Thomma is a White House Press Corps member who works for McClatchy Newspapers and remarks focused on "The White House Message Machine: How It Spins Faster Than Ever".
Steve Thomma recalls his personal interactions with President Barak Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton including during their time as presidential candidates (each ran for the office in 2007-2008). Steve touches on candid moments at Press Conferences and working with The White House Staff. Thomma currently travels and reports on the Republic Presidential Candidates and Campaigns.
Thomma illustrates his understanding of the complex "White House Message Machine". Beginning with Richard Nixon's pro-active press office to get the message out, has now come to the Obama Operation today utilizing 69 people with the latest in technologies to have as far a range as possible throughout the media. For example, Twitter is used by several of the White House Staffers, to provide updates and additional sources of information. Additionally, Obama's Press Office rolls out produced pictures and videos to show The President's message and favorable work by The President and his Administration, provided on The White House website, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook.
Some of the issues of the "Produced Message" of The White House is that there are rarely members of the Press Corps allowed to participate when the images or "news story" happens when only The White House Official still photographer and video camera are allowed to cover. Thomma describes his concern with The White House limiting access, because without the press, a full story can not be told, only what the Press Office wants, which focuses on the "approved, managed message".
Thomma also compares recent Presidents and their availability to the press. Through April 2011 and to this point in different Administrations, President Obama participated in questions from the media and public 130 times,, compared to President Bush's 301, President Bill Clinton 511, President H.W. Bush 258 and President Ronald Reagan 118. These include taking questions at formal White House Press Conference, from the White House Press Pool in places such as The Oval Office and short "gaggles" at various locations. The data was compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, who researches and provides data on the media availability of the President.
President Obama though has participated in a large number of TV interviews compared to the other recent Presidents. The numbers are Obama 306, W. Bush 91, Clinton 139, H.W. Bush 87 and Reagan 115. President Obama is the first President to participate in a majority of interviews by TV, instead of print or other sources. The possible reasons for Obama's choice could be that its more controlled, more conversational, its one-on-one, can go on longer or can be more selective with which TV Network to select. Also, 20% of President Obama's newspaper interview went to one newspaper in his first year in office.
Thomma touches on the ability to be available and getting the message out as much as possible can move towards the issue of "over-exposure". When The White House pushes out to much, they run the risk of "reduced impact". Over communicating can over expose The President and their message to the point that it is not value added to their ability push their message out.