The reality, however, is that struggles with message control and policy salesmanship have
afflicted every modern president. Despite an endless stream of media claims to the contrary, the best political science research shows that presidents can rarely change public opinion on controversial policy issues. Even Reagan—the so-called Great Communicator himself—recognized this reality, conceding in his memoirs that his televised speeches supporting aid to the Contra rebels had little effect on the public. Indeed, Reagan’s pollster advised him after his re-election victory not to make televised speeches because they increase opposition to his proposals.

In short, White House coverage is stuck in the doldrums at least as much as its current occupant. Hey TNR—any chance of a second-term recovery guide for journalists?

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.


Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.