May 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: White House embraces Zoom to target local audiences

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is seen giving a television interview from the White House lawn.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo conducts a TV interview the same day President Biden traveled to Pittsburgh to sell his $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The White House is seizing upon the pandemic's breakthrough technology to give local TV stations nearly 500 Zoom interviews to date with senior White House officials and members of the Cabinet.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is trying to sell the president’s policies to Americans who don’t live and breathe politics by reaching them at home with broadcasts fed directly from a 4th-floor studio in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

  • "The president wants to demonstrate and explain to the American people that government works again, and that is what underpins our communication strategy — and that drives our focus on local media," said Kate Berner, deputy White House communications director.

The big picture: Biden’s team has been targeting local audiences since Day One, as a way to bypass national media and ignore whatever Twitter-generated stories are dominating Beltway coverage.

  • It's also partnering with social media influencers and online platforms as other avenues for selling its message directly to the American people.
  • The goal is to pass the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan while selling — and defending — Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan by working with coalition groups and an outside paid media campaign.

By the numbers: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made 50 appearances from the studio, the most appearances by any user, according to figures kept by the White House.

  • Heather Boushey, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, leads the list of appearances by White House staff with 34 hits.
  • From the communications team, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has done 28 interviews.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki had taped 23.
  • To date, officials have reached 40 states through 485 interviews.

How it works: When Cabinet secretaries, mayors or lawmakers are at the White House, the communication team asks them to stay on campus for an extra hour and tries to stack as many pre-taped interviews as possible.

  • Officials typically pitch the interview to the local affiliate by offering detailed state-specific data about the president’s plans.
  • Staffers sometimes have to stay in the hallway outside to remind employees to keep their voices down.
  • After the session, officials will sometimes swing down to Pebble Beach, the graveled area outside the West Wing that's home to White House correspondents and their cameras, to do an additional round on cable TV.

Between the lines: The White House seems to be giving extra special attention to the states that delivered the presidency for Biden.

  • In Georgia, there have been 24 interviews with Atlanta affiliates, six in Augusta and four in Macon.
  • In Pennsylvania, another state Democrats won back from Republicans in 2020, there have been 17 interviews for Philadelphia stations and 11 for Pittsburgh.

The bottom line: While the pandemic curtailed travel and other traditional political sales tactics, it's made it easier — and more publicly acceptable — for the Biden team to bypass the national media and speak directly to voters.

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