Obama: the most videoed president in history

August 22, 2013

Did you know that President Obama has an official videographer? I found out today, thanks to this NPR article.

Arun Chaudhary spent the entire 2008 campaign and the first two years of the administration filming Obama behind the scenes.

“We are definitely talking about thousands and thousands of hours,” he says, “and that’s just … my camera.”

Chaudhary and his successors have filmed Obama on the basketball court, in the Oval Office and palling around with Elena Kagan seconds before he nominated her to the Supreme Court.

How cool is that? The problem, it transpires, is that the sheer volume will, given the format, make it a nightmare for future historians to navigate:

While the material will go to the National Archives and eventually to the Obama presidential library, Chaudhary says there are crucial differences between official and casual events that make his material much harder to search.

“I could put the text of a speech into a file or something next to the video of the speech … and then when you’re searching for a specific line, it can come up,” he says. “But to actually have someone transcribe every casual conversation the president had with anyone while I was filming, I can tell you would take a long time.”

Those transcripts don’t exist, and nobody plans to create them. The behind-the-scenes footage is labeled by date and place. But beyond that, the contents will remain a mystery until someone combs through and catalogs them.

In the meantime, here’s a really fun compilation clip:


Spending time with the decision-maker-in-chief

September 28, 2012

Really worth a read this: a lengthy profile in Vanity Fair of President Obama, by journalist Michael Lewis, who spent six months behind the scenes. In amongst the fascinating vignettes of Obama at rest, work and play (his weekly basketball games where anyone who ‘goes easy’ on the President isn’t invited back, Obama’s favourite place in the White House where he and Michelle sit whenever they can), much of the article focuses on the President’s approach to making decisions, in particular the decision to actively intervene in Libya. In the course of trying to understand Obama’s approach, Lewis makes a second attempt to ask how the current President would prepare someone else to take on a role that involves making hundreds of crucial decisions a day:

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

And then on another occasion the President tells Lewis:

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama said at one point. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.” On top of all of this, after you have made your decision, you need to feign total certainty about it. People being led do not want to think probabilistically.


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