President Obama’s road to the White House was a case study for Public Relations professionals; he was able to take whatever was thrown his way and stay on message to his success. Now, Obama cannot seem to win in the public relations ring. His accomplishments are overshadowed with his failures, his approval ratings are constantly dropping, and he has no political capital to show for his achievements.
On Monday, Obama was involved in a public relations catastrophe when the US Department of Agriculture employee, Shirley Sherrod was fired over allegations of racism that later proved to be unsubstantiated. The right-wing media blew this situation up, leaving out important details, like Ms. Sherrod wasn’t even working for the federal government at the time the speech in question occurred, or in the end, she never even withheld help to the white farmer in the controversial situation. Obama was played by the media. After all the damage was done, the Obama administration and even Obama himself apologized for this huge mistake and offered her job back with promotion.
To Obama’s detriment, this situation happened on a week full of accomplishments. Just this week, Obama signed a Wall Street reform bill, signed a law that improves the ability to crack down on improper payments made by our government, and overcame a partisan minority in the Senate to restore unemployment insurance. The Obama administration even had a ceremony on Wednesday for the signing of the Wall Street reform bill to redirect people’s attention but was overshadowed by media’s fixation on Shirley Sherrod.
As a last-minute effort to leave the week on a high note, turn the media’s attention away from the Sherrod incident and get his approval ratings back up; on Friday, Obama called an impromptu press conference to discuss the enormous progress they had made this week.
In the past year and a half, the Obama administration has had numerous achievements like health reform, the largest middle class tax cut, student loan reform, and nuclear agreements (just to name a few), but somehow all these political triumphs have been eclipsed. This has proven to be a major problem in this administration.
What happened to Obama’s stellar public relations? Does this situation show that the media has the ultimate power to shape the public agenda and their perceptions? Will the media, the thing that launched Obama’s career, also take him down? It seems like the right-wing media is winning this battle now.