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Videos capture Obama's week

Snippets of humor and action.

WASHINGTON - Moments before Elena Kagan was introduced to the nation as President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court, the president turned to her and offered a mock-helpful suggestion: "Just don't trip. That'll be really embarrassing." Kagan chuckled and shot back playfully, "It's very nice of you to say that."

It's a small moment, recorded for history in a recent edition of "West Wing Week," a video diary of presidential doings that the White House posts each week on its website, Facebook, YouTube, and elsewhere.

Now entering their third month, the 6- to 8-minute videos are promoted as "your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Oddball bits

That's a stretch. But they do serve as a chronological stroll through Obama's week, and roll in snippets of behind-the-scenes action and oddball bits of humor.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest, who narrates the videos, says they help fill "the president's commitment to ensure his White House is the most transparent in history."

The view from outside is mixed: There is praise for another smart use of new media - and criticism of the end result as awkward and ineffective.

Kathleen Jamieson, an authority on political communications at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center, said the videos allow the White House to give the impression of openness.

"That's the value of it before you've ever looked at the substance," she said.

But Jamieson said the finished product comes off as "amateur video," most useful to a high schooler who has to write a paper about what the president does in a typical week.

"You could get the impression from this that the president does a lot of things," Jamieson said. "You wouldn't know that any of them are important."

Yet GOP strategist David All, who is organizing a fall conference on the Internet's role in activism, media, and politics, thinks the videos are both entertaining and effective.

Historical record

The videos may contain a lot of fluff, he said, "but for the most part it can be useful for the president." They blend backstage color and humor with standard political messages and information about Obama's activities, he said. They also could be a valuable historical record, All said.

The videos often begin with some sort of offbeat message from a government official. One week, for instance, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, tells viewers: "Joining the discussion on my Facebook page is no substitute for a Ph.D in physics. However, it's a lot faster and cheaper."

From there, the videos march through Obama's week, with clips of public events and private conversation. As he gets last-minute instructions before a state visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, he jokes with his wife, Michelle, about who should stand where, then adds, "I've only been briefed like eight times on this."

There's a deliberate randomness to the footage: Obama is seen on the phone with the new British prime minister, posing for a photo with White House interns, meeting in the Situation Room about the Gulf oil spill, checking out an electric arc furnace in Ohio, kibitzing with Connecticut's national champion women's basketball team.

The videos often end with a light moment, and the first one gave a small nod to the creator of the weekly series.

As Obama is seen striding into the White House, he asks an unseen cameraman, "Arun, why are you filming me now?"

That would be White House videographer Arun Chaudhary. He said in an e-mail he got the idea to do "West Wing Week" because he had "lots of interesting clips that couldn't really stand on their own but did when collected together."

In addition to appearing on the White House blog, the videos are tweeted, turned into podcasts, and posted weekly on Facebook and YouTube.