Obama's media blitz carries big risks

President Barack Obama will dominate the nation’s airwaves Sunday morning in another attempt to sell his vision of healthcare reform after other major White House pushes have stumbled.

In the president's last two major attempts to influence the healthcare debate -- a prime time press conference and a joint address to Congress -- his message was obscured by remarks about race and a member's outburst.

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Analysts agree that much of that is Obama's own fault. His refusal to draw lines in the sand or give further detail in what he wants to see in a reform bill creates a vacuum that is easily filled with stories about Henry Louis Gates or Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

And Obama could find himself embroiled in additional controversies this weekend if he continues the same talking points on healthcare.

The president's Sunday show interviews -- taped at the White House on Friday afternoon -- come at the end of a week that has seen former President Jimmy Carter raise the stakes of the race debate; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) comparing current civic unrest to 1970s San Francisco violence; a controversial change in missile defense policy; and a nearly universal panning of Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) healthcare bill.

Obama will do interviews with all of the Sunday talk shows, excluding Fox News Sunday, and on the popular Spanish-language channel Univision.

Analysts predict that if the president doesn’t say something new about healthcare, he will likely end up in the Monday morning papers being quoted on one of controversies from earlier this week.

"He's going to be on the front page of every newspaper in America on Monday morning," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "The outstanding question is whether it's about healthcare or something else."

Schnur, who was communications director for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign in 2000, said if Obama doesn't come to the table with news he wants to make, then he will lose control of what the message is that comes out of the shows.

"The president can go on C-SPAN at four in the morning and drive the news, if he has news to make," Schnur said. "But he can eat fire and juggle on American Idol, and if he doesn't have news to make on healthcare, then he's going to end up making news on something else."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs hinted that the president would say new things about healthcare reform.

"I don't think that we're going to look back at a series of interviews as a game-changing moment," Gibbs said. "I think it is important that the president continue to speak to a host of different audiences to reach as many people as possible to talk about the benefits of health care reform."

Democratic strategist Brent Budowsky, a contributor to The Hill's Pundits Blog, said if Obama doesn't make news about healthcare, he will find himself sucked further into the debate about race as it relates to the high emotions and tension that are surrounding the issue.

Budowsky said that there will undoubtedly be questions, on every show, about Carter's, Wilson's and Pelosi's comments, but the president would be wise to respond to each by saying he is a champion of all Americans and the healthcare debate affects everyone regardless of race.

Particularly, Budowsky said, Obama needs to connect with blue-collar white voters and independents in outlining why his healthcare plan is important to them.

"Whatever the question, that's the answer," Budowsky said. "It's not to get into some arcane discussion about Jimmy Carter."

Budowsky questioned the wisdom of doing five interviews on one day, noting that "you've got five times the likelihood of making a controversial comment."

Budowsky said the White House is failing to realize that if the president doesn't advance the debate with a fortification of what his policy is, then he creates a news vacuum.

"I think they overestimate the value of words as opposed to policies and actions," he said.