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Obama Punch Drunk

Obama Punch Drunk

PR Gurus Assess Obama's 'Punch Drunk' TV Moment

Should President Obama be laughing right now?

The most memorable moment of the president's interview on "60 Minutes" Sunday night came when reporter Steve Kroft asked, "Are you punch drunk?" That came after Obama, in what could otherwise be deemed a nearly flawless interview, inexplicably chuckled as he talked about the disaster that is the nation's economy.

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We asked some of Washington's savviest public relations strategists to weigh in on what they thought of the president's "gallows humor," as he dubbed it. Here's what they had to say:

Rich Masters of Qorvis Communications, who is a Democrat: "The interview was nearly 30 minutes long and the 'punch drunk' segment lasted about 30 seconds, I think it's ridiculous that 30 seconds would come to define an entire interview. That said, in modern public relations those 30 seconds can be the most important if the 'pack' of journalists inside the Beltway focus on them, since most Americans will only watch the reviews of the interview and not the interview itself.

"Is it right to laugh when millions of Americans are mad, sad and unable to find work? Yes, if it's done correctly and I think his laughter at the absurdity of AIG bonuses to the failed 'best and brightest' was appropriate. The president has a good bit of smart-ass in him like most Americans and he could either be mad and blustery about it or he could use ironic humor to poke at the absurdity of the situation we are in. Americans want their presidents to be calm and cheerful in the face of crisis and I think he is accomplishing that. Just so long as he leaves the lame Special Olympics jokes at home."

Marina Ein of Ein Communications, who leans right but has defended many a high-powered Democrat: "Humor is certain to make the laid-off workers, 401K reduced-retirees and Madoff-scammed feel much better! NOT! We don't need a comic-in-chief we need a commander-in-chief! Maybe Favreau is no longer writing his material!"

Jim McCarthy of Counterpoint Strategies, a non-political strategist who represents corporate titans: "Yes, the laughter was off key but it's a great example of how seductive the press can be and how easy it is for even the most polished speakers to let their guard down. If the interview had been conducted by a more obvious adversary, I'm sure Obama would have stayed sharp throughout. But that's the point -- they are all adversaries.

"For as much as I dislike his policies I've been very impressed with Obama's poise and delivery during interviews. But in a perverse way, that confidence actually sets him up for the gotcha punch that last night's interview delivered. He may seem poised but, look, he can't keep a straight face! He appears serious but, stop the presses, he may be in over his head! That counter-intuitive frame can trip up just about anyone and it's one of the cheapest tricks in journalism.

"Overall I thought he came off very well last night and I somehow doubt that the American public will psychoanalyze the minor laughter gaffes as much as the Beltway crowd will. My only advice would be a PR method that the Vatican uses called an 'advocatus diaboli.' As practice for an interview, have a staffer play the role of the devil (in this case, the press) and have a sharp colloquy on the image vulnerabilities that are currently being perceived. It's tempting for the White House to become a cloister of yes men but what they need most right now is an appointed naysayer."

Unnamed Democratic political public relations specialist: "While Obama is gifted in so many ways, humor is not of them. Whether it was Leno on Thursday or '60 minutes' last night, humor is not something that is he seems to be comfortable with, he does not come across as a funny guy. We are only blessed with so many gifts. Obama has many, humor isn't one of them."

And the Sleuth welcomes your comments, especially from those of you - and we know there are lots - who are in the world of communications and public relations. We'll do a follow-up posting picking the best of the (non-abusive and thoughtful) comments. Real names and affiliations preferred though if you insist, we'll respect your anonymity.

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