The Los Angeles Times' Top of the Ticket blog has an interesting comment on Obama's response to the New Yorker cartoon supposedly satirizing his image, saying that while he had the right impluse to decline commenting on it because he thought it was trivial, that message didn't come across until he said it on a Larry King Live interview two days after the story hit. By then, spokespeople for both the McCain and Obama campaigns had released statements denouncing the magazine cover, which featured no caption but an article focusing on Obama's early political career in Chicago. The blog points out this late response as a major PR gaffe, because it drove press to the cartoon instead of dampening the story:
If the cover is so tasteless and offensive, why purposely call it to the attention of millions of Americans with a strong denunciation on an otherwise slow news Sunday afternoon? It turned a mere magazine cover that the Obama campaign would rather no one see into a must-see for millions. Say, the magazine prints a million copies. A million covers. But there are nearly 305 million Americans.
But as a result of the campaign-induced uproar, that image has now been reproduced and received countless millions more voter impressions than the magazine itself could ever dream of. It's been viewed hundreds of thousands of times already just on this blog. And, by the way, what was the Obama campaign doing calling the magazine, trying to get an apology, or intimidate someone?
Ignoring the magazine would have been ideal. But if that's not possible, what if [Bill] Burton [his communications director] had made himself available -- that's not hard to do with reporters circling like hawks -- waited for the inevitable New Yorker question and said something like, "C'mon, guys. It's a magazine cover, for Pete's sake. A cartoon. They think it's satire. It's a free country. It's sure not funny. We think there are far more important issues to put on the cover of a magazine, like the looming mortgage crisis that the Bush administration and its McCain cronies have ignored so long."
Without an explosive response, that magazine cover story would have been a minor one-day story in far fewer places than it was. In fact, even assuming the McCain camp's denunciation was genuine, both campaigns joining in added more gasoline to the fire, which to be honest doesn't exactly hurt McCain's cause. It sure got all the chatter off the Phil Gramm whiner stuff quickly, an Obama gift to the GOP.
Would that really have worked? Controversial political stories and provocative magazine covers have a way of grabbing attention and sticking around for a bit. It's interesting to note that while Obama didn't want to release his statement his advisors felt someone had to, and ended up releasing a statement that didn't exactly jibe with the message the candidate wanted to send. But even if Obama had ignored the cover, this is a story that bloggers would pick up and it would slowly burn its way to the mainstream media. How does one deal with a situation when responding would only bring negative attention? Many times the absence of a comment is seen as damming, even if the story is more complicated than that, and a long explanation would only make it worse. I don't think this is as big a gaffe as the blog makes it out to be, but his response time and style is something to watch, especially when added to what may look to be delayed responses to the Jeremiah Wright fiasco and those persistant internet rumors.