A PR Lesson Courtesy of President Obama

podiumPresident Obama’s news conference on the IRS started about 20 minutes late yesterday. It’s not unusual for a president – or a governor or a mayor – to run behind schedule. They usually try to fill their days with as many events and activities as possible, and the demands of their jobs often send preset schedules off kilter.

But Obama’s tardiness yesterday came at a most inopportune time and represented a public relations miscue of sorts.

Because cameras already were set up at the White House, cable news viewers were shown the image of an empty podium while pundits discussed the president’s upcoming remarks. This created two problems.

First, the picture of an empty presidential podium is not the image any president wants to convey – especially this one who often has been criticized for being weak on substance. It’s a picture that plays right into his critics’ hands.

As Politico reported in February, the Obama Administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to control the press. It’s surprising the White House didn’t just close the video feed until the president arrived.

The second problem, however, may be even greater. With time to kill while waiting for the president, cable news pundits from both the left and the right spent 20 minutes building expectations for the president’s remarks and rehashing details of the IRS controversy and other troubles plaguing the the White House. The longer they waited, the more outlandish their comments became.

The easy solution is for the president to be on time. Realistically, that’s not going to happen, so it’s up to the White House press staff to do a better job than what they did last night.

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