It was unfortunate that President Obama answered the question about Professor Gates at his news conference last night because it has dramatically diluted the focus of his message from health care reform to this unrelated story. Many news organizations are covering his remarks on that one subject with less recognition of his health care reform message. While the Washington Post and NY Times lead with the health message, they also include articles about the Professor Gates. Conversely, the Boston Globe (not surprisingly) and CNN.com highlight the Professor Gates story over healthcare. (MSNBC.com and cbsnew.com have health reform coverage more prominently that the Professor Gates story, while abcnews.com and foxnews.com have Gates>health reform.)
Since the need for speed on moving health reform legislation through Congress was a large point the President was trying to make, this diversion has greatly diluted that message and shows how difficult and delicate message delivery can be about contentious issues – and how easily the media’s focus can be shifted from what you want to something else. For example, I once had a series of media interviews about advances in treating heart diseases swept aside in a local area by coverage of the gangland style murder of the owner of a popular local fast food chain.
So while all the possible stories the media may cover can’t be controlled, keeping focused on the top health reform messages will be key for continuing to move legislation through the Congressional process.