Sunday, September 16, 2007

Barack Obama's secret weapon: Oprah

Successfully manipulating the media is one of the primary challenges presidential candidates face when marketing themselves to the public.

After all, how a candidate is presented is almost as important as what he or she has to say these days. If candidates come across in an unappealing way in the media, the struggle they face is much more difficult than those who handle themselves well.

A famous example of this took place during the 1960 presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The race was very close, but a likely turning point occurred during their televised debates.

Kennedy came across as charming and attractive, while Nixon looked sweaty and awkward. Advantage: Kennedy.

Recently, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president by appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He was glib and relaxed as he commented on his reasons for running.

He knew Leno did not have the skills to grill him from a political standpoint, and as an actor, he knew how to exploit a friendly situation to get maximum exposure.

True, he did receive criticism for skipping a Republican debate to appear on Leno's show, but Thompson obviously knew how important it was to make his announcement in a way that would have the most impact.

As he said, it is a lot more difficult to get on Leno's show than to appear in a political debate. His appearance gave his campaign a successful bounce, and he seems off to a good start.

Another candidate successfully exploiting the media is Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

Like several candidates in the race, he seems comfortable in front of cameras and is able to present himself in a pleasant way.

He communicates well even though some critics have dismissed him as just another empty suit.

However, as the race unfolds, Obama does have an ace up his sleeve when it comes to having allies in the media.

The most powerful person on television is talk show host Oprah Winfrey. She has publicly announced her endorsement of Obama and has already been helping his campaign.

While many dismiss the impact of endorsements, the political world will be making a big mistake if it underestimates the possible impact Winfrey can have on Obama's candidacy.

Oprah is easily the most influential television personality when it comes to prodding an audience into action.

When she endorses a book, her audience buys them in such quantity that the books zoom up the best seller's list. Her monthly magazine (titled "O") features a cover photo of her each month instead of other celebrities because she understands how powerful she is as a commodity.

Her following is so loyal that her viewers have been called the "Church of Oprah."

Since her endorsement of Obama is the first time she has endorsed a candidate, the real intrigue is whether her influence will transfer into the political arena.

For Obama, the endorsement certainly couldn't hurt. He currently trails Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by double digits in most polls.

With Oprah's endorsement, she may help him compete with Clinton for women's votes since they make up her core audience.

Of course, not all of her viewers are Democrats, and I doubt that dedicated Republicans who watch her show will jump parties just because Oprah tells them to.

Still, I don't think it is much of a stretch to believe that she will have a lot of influence with viewers who are currently undecided on who to vote for or those who don't usually vote but will now consider Obama just because she has endorsed him.

In the long run, it remains to be seen how much of an impact this endorsement will have, but it never hurts to have somebody with a golden touch in your corner.

If nothing else, Oprah will be a valuable resource for fundraising as she taps her friends in the media and in Hollywood on Obama's behalf. She recently hosted a fundraiser at her California estate, and there will likely be more of those in the coming months.

To paraphrase an old saying, it never hurts to have friends in high places.

In Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama has just that.


Nate said...


Obama is the VP. His job is to make it look like Hillary came through a big tough fight and won fair and square.

In return... he'll get to be Hillary's perfect fall accessory in 08.

Joltin' Django said...

Don't get me started on Oprah. From her statement - on air - in 1987 that 1 in 5 heterosexuals would be dead of AIDS by 1990, to her allowing Michael Moore an entire hour to vent with nary an opposing point of view in sight, I think she's nothing but a leftist hack. Not only that, but it's precisely because of people like Oprah that our body politic is plagued by so much style over substance. Her trumpeting of Obama doesn't have anything to do with his political philosophy, his voting record, or his stances on important issues. She's for him because he's black, he's telegenic, and he's adept at issuing the tear-invoking "I feel your pain" empathy that Oprah and her viewers eat up with a spoon. If Obama was a white guy named Jones or Smith - with a similar elective history and life story - do you really think Oprah would be his number one fan?

Sjones said...

I want to see Oprah kiss Pat Buchanan on the lips. Until that happens I will feel pain every time I hear her name mentioned.
The Church of Oprah is in serious need of salvation. Maybe Oprah thinks Obama is the savior. Or maybe she just needs a man. Either way she's little more than a semi-sophisticated carny & Obama has now become a fleeting part of her three ring circus.

As popular and influential as Oprah is, Bubba Bill & Hillary will make short work of her and Obama when voting time comes.

oprah winfrey said...

i must break you...i must break you all.