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By Jay Cost

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Obama Courts the Pundits

David Brooks' recent column had a lot of people talking - as it was surprising to learn that four Obama administration officials contacted him after the criticisms of the President in his previous essay.

Michael Calderone has an interesting piece up at Politico that follows up on this, reporting that this is part of a broader White House strategy:

When New York Times columnist David Brooks accused the White House last week of "shaking confidence with its hyperactivity," no fewer than four senior administration officials reached out to explain -- ever so politely -- how he was wrong.

Overkill? Maybe. But it's what journalists have come to expect from an administration that's trying much harder than its predecessor did to influence inside-the-Beltway opinion makers. [snip]

Andrew Rosenthal, The Times' editorial page editor, says the Obama White House has been more "proactive" than the Bush White House was, offering up policy thinkers to more fully explain the administration's positions -- both before and after columns and editorials run.

"I've had more unsolicited offers for participation from the Obama people in 45 days than in the last eight years from Bush," said Rosenthal.

This is a smart approach. Generally, I am wary about overemphasizing the importance of the punditocracy in the formulation of public opinion. That being said, the inside-the-Beltway crowd can affect public opinion in lasting, significant ways - if, for instance, its members agree with one another and publish those opinions again and again and again. Something like this happened to George W. Bush's presidency, I think. He lost elite opinion before he lost popular opinion - and the former helped the latter along. So, it is good for President Obama to learn from his predecessor's mistakes.

Additionally, this courtship of pundits could supplement what might ultimately be a minimal relationship with reporters. I'm reminded, for instance, of his tough Q&A session with reporters last March about Tony Rezko, when he famously said, "Come on guys; I answered like eight questions." In October, CBS News' Dean Reynolds openly complained about the treatment journalists received aboard the Obama campaign plane. In November, Candidate Obama would not answer questions until his press conference after the election, prompting some pushback from ABC's Jake Tapper. And then of course, President Obama - like his predecessor - did not allow follow-up questions at his first prime time press conference, prompting Craig Crawford to encourage journalists to coordinate:

If he intends to maintain this Bush policy, reporters must work together and agree to ask the obvious follow-up to the previous question as they take their turns. Otherwise, these press conferences are nothing but one-sided speeches.

It's too early to say, but I wonder if the Obama White House's strategy is to court the pundits, but not the journalists. That would be an interesting approach.

-Jay Cost