Washington Prowler

Profiling Obama

Political healing in the Gates case. Michelle's patient dumping. DDB sings Obama the Beautiful.

By 7.27.09

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GATES CLOSED
It wasn't out of a need for racial healing that President Barack Obama reached out to his old friend, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley.

"We were looking at House hearings on the matter moving fairly quickly, and that wasn't going to be good for us or for Gates," says a White House source. "We needed this thing to go away and go away fast."

Early Friday, the White House got wind of Rep. Edolphus Towns' interest in holding hearings into the matter of Gates' arrest, and more broadly looking into the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement. Towns is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as the senior House Democratic Member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Adding to the desire to get the story buried was the media's seeming refusal to let the story drop. By noon Friday, House press secretary Robert Gibbs, along with other senior White House officials, recommended that Obama either walk back his statement further than he did on Thursday, or take proactive action. 

"The President chose action, in part because we saw this story eclipsing other issues and narratives that we needed front and center for August," says the White House source. "We didn't need House hearings keeping the story alive into August and then into the fall, when the hearings most likely would have been held. We have more important issues to deal with than this."

MICHELLE'S DUMPING DESIGNS
Republicans on Capitol Hill are taking a fresh look at one of the seedier Chicago stories from Barack and Michelle Obama's past in ratcheting up the debate on Obamacare: the University of Chicago Hospital's "Urban Health Initiative," which Michelle Obama ran prior to her taking a leave of absence to campaign with her husband in 2007.

Because of the medical center's location on the South Side of Chicago, a large number of indigent patients, without health insurance, were using the hospital's emergency room for care. The nonprofit hospital, which in 2007 made more than $100 million in profits, largely because its beds and facilities were used by paying patients and those fully insured, paid Mrs. Obama to oversee the Urban Health Initiative program that identified indigent patients and then steered them to other area medical facilities. In fact, some of those profits came from Canadian citizens who traveled to the U.S. for medical procedures they could not get due to Canada's restrictive national health care programs. 

It wasn't just Obama's wife who was involved in creating the program.  Senior White House adviser and political strategist, David Axelrod, and his PR firm in Chicago were retained to develop a media campaign to encourage area residents not to use University of Chicago as a medical facility. Senior White House official, and Obama friend, Valerie Jarrett served on the board of directors of the hospital and approved the plan for the Urban Health Initiative, and the hiring of Axelrod. And on the recommendation of then Senator Obama, Dr. Eric Whitaker, was named director of the Initiative in late 2007, after serving as the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, a job he got after Obama recommended him to then Gov. Rod Blagojevich via another Obama crony, Tony Rezko, a fund-raiser for Obama and now a convicted felon on federal corruption charges.

Candidate Obama thought enough of the program to tout it as an example of how health care reform should be done. When asked about the program during the 2008 presidential campaign, Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said, "Senator Obama sees community health centers as a vital part of efforts to invest in prevention and reduce costs."

But as more reporters focused on Mrs. Obama's health care initiative, the campaign started to backtrack, particularly when local Chicago ward bosses started making claims that Mrs. Obama's program was nothing more than "patient dumping."

In February 2009, the program took another hit, when the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Dr. Nick Jouriles, said, "The medical center is reducing emergency care access to its local community, while at the same time, opening a 'side door' to a 'specialty intake area' to provide emergency care to medical center private patients. This is a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic effects in poor neighborhoods across the country."

That statement came after local news reports highlighted the story of Dontae Adams, young Medicaid patient who was rushed to University of Chicago Hospital after a pit bull attack, was treated with painkillers and a tetanus shot, but then was refused admission for surgery. Adams' mother was forced to take him on an hour-long bus ride to another hospital for the facial surgery.

Then-Senator Obama took some flack back in 2007 for attempting to get a $1 million earmark cleared through the Senate for his wife's hospital. Ultimately, that earmark was not approved.

YES WE CANNES
While the U.S. State Department has not asked for the assistance, some global public relations and advertising firms are doing their part to help the Obama Administration succeed overseas. According to sources inside DDB Worldwide, one of the world's most prestigious advertising and PR firms, some executives have prepared recommended talking points and a suggested image campaign for incoming Obama Administration U.S ambassadors and counsel generals, particularly in Europe and Asia.

One of the recommendations, according to sources: American officials shouldn't identify themselves  as representatives of the United States. Rather, to build on his personal popularity abroad, they should identify themselves as a "representative of President Barack Obama."

DDB, according to the source, was not solicited by the government to undertake the PR effort. Rather, it was done by a few employees supportive of the Obama Administration. Senior DDB  executives, however, have made fairly public efforts to tout the Obama Administration overseas. In May, DDB CEO Chuck Brymer and DDB CCO Bob Scarpelli invited senior Obama political adviser David Plouffe to speak at the firm's conference during the Cannes film festival.

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