Senior Associate Michael Dolmatch weighs in on the latest POTUS press event. 6.5.2014
A video of President Obama working out in a hotel gym in Warsaw, Poland went viral today and stirred up the full spectrum of media and internet-dweller responses ranging from amusement and mockery of his physical prowess to security concerns. This isn’t so much a crisis as a moderately embarrassing demonstration of how anything the president does will inevitably light up the social media landscape. The administration could have gone in a few different directions with the response, but this was a textbook “less is more” scenario.
The Secret Service had a spokesman get out ahead of the situation to address the notion that a man taking a cell phone video of the president was symptomatic of shoddy security. He explained that agents were in the room and that all guests had undergone a security screening. He likened the situation to any time the president goes to a restaurant in Washington and candid pictures and video emerge, saying, “Hotel guests were not asked to leave the gym…nor were they asked to refrain from taking pictures.” With this serious worry addressed, the administration went radio-silent, choosing to ride out the storm instead of feed the trolls.
This was a strong strategic communications choice because the administration’s silence projected confidence; it communicated that, while the government takes the president’s safety seriously, the president is human and a ribbing at the hands of a hotel guest doesn’t raise the White House PR team’s blood pressure. A longer statement, or even a short one from the White House itself rather than the Secret Service, would have fueled the fire. They might have considered trying to own the joke with a bit of self-deprecating humor to take the edge off, but that is a tactic they can save for a rainy day.
Instead, they sat back and let others do the talking for them, from the Associated Press, which ran a brief largely about how the video was no big deal to a Bloomberg View contributor who used it as a chance to point out the relative insecurity evident in Russian President Putin’s carefully curated macho image. Fox News went with the benign headline, “Secret Service not sweating leak of Obama workout photos.”
The Twitter jokes rolled on all day, as expected, but #ObamaWorkout will die on its own…that is, until the president’s next late night TV appearance, when he can use it to get some laughs on his own terms.