Editor-in-Chief Obama

President Obama takes an impromtu tour of the press area just after taking office in 2009 (Getty Images)

President Obama takes an impromtu tour of the press area just after taking office in 2009 (Getty Images)

President Obama is frustrated by the national media’s obsession with silly stories, Time‘s Michael Scherer reports.

We are past, for the moment, the White House “war” on Fox, such as it was. (Obama did an interview with Fox News’ Major Garrett a few weeks back, and General Petraeus is on Fox News Sunday today, with close Obama ally Dick Durbin.) Summer is gone too, and with it the “wee weed up” “silly season” of political coverage that Obama and his aides regularly decried. But President Obama’s disdain for certain features of the national media remains alive and well. In a little noticed aside at the end of Thursday’s jobs summit, Obama effectively painted the press as an obstacle to not just the much-needed economic recovery, but to America recovering its 20th Century position as an economic powerhouse.

[…]

On the aforementioned Asia trip, Obama only took two questions from the U.S. print press corps over the course of seven days, one in a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and one with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak. Obama did sit down interviews in Beijing with CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News. ABC News got an interview with Obama shortly before he departed for Asia.

Through both the campaign and his presidency, Obama has made little secret of his disdain for some of the horse-race, tabloid elements of the press corps–though his political and communications staff are not above sometimes exploiting those same tendencies for their own benefit. Obama meets regularly off-the-record and on-the-record meals with columnists who his advisers see as more intellectually substantive (or politically influential). But he has not done the same with beat reporters, whom, as he suggested Thursday, sometimes do a disservice to the country with the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasing.

The actual substance of the president’s criticism of the press — that “our political debate doesn’t match up with what we need to do and where we need to go” — is not only mild but it’s an analysis I share.

I am, however, a bit troubled by the continuous meme perpetuated by the Obama camp going back to the campaign that any criticism of Obama or attempt to talk about something other than what Obama wants to talk about at any given moment in time is somehow illegitimate.  The degree to which this is merely a cynical strategy or genuine arrogance and hubris, I haven’t figured out.

While the president has enormous influence in shaping the public debate, the notion that he should be the sole decider is dangerous.

To be sure, presidents have complained about the press as long as I can remember.  But it’s usually on the basis that the media are ideologically biased and portraying their agenda in an unfair light.  It’s the political equivalent of coaches working the refs to get better calls.

Obama has taken it to a new level* to such an extent that a difference in degree may be a difference in kind.  Not only is his team spending an inordinate amount of time going after the Fox News network and Republican talk radio hosts but they’re  questioning the entire agenda of the mainstream press corps. They’re also not so subtly punishing those who dare question him and rewarding those who follow his agenda.  Given the need of the White House press corps to report on the president on a day in, day out basis, that amounts to tremendous pressure to tow the administration line.

via memeorandum

*UPDATE:  A commenter points out much more egregious conduct by Woodrow Wilson.  Which, of course, reminds me of far more egregious conduct on the part of some of our early presidents, notably the Alien and Sedition Acts.   Rather than “new,” I should simply say he’s raised the bar compared to presidents in the post-Watergate era.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Can this really be the worst ever? With so many sources for news and commentary?

    Surely when it was just a few major newspapers and radio outlets it was easier for a Whitehouse to manage the message. FDR?

    Now they are reduced to one thing, managing their own message and their own conferences.

  2. (If you had to run this piece by the Whitehouse James, just tell us 😉

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    I am, however, a bit troubled by the continuous meme perpetuated by the Obama camp going back to the campaign that any criticism of Obama or attempt to talk about something other than what Obama wants to talk about at any given moment in time is somehow illegitimate.

    I think you’re reading too much into this. I’ve seen Obama interviewed quite a few times, and I think he answers all questions as well as one can reasonably expect from a politician. What’s wrong with calling out a question as silly when a question is silly?

    While the president has enormous influence in shaping the public debate, the notion that he should be the sole decider is dangerous.

    Is anyone actually arguing for this point?

    Obama has taken it to a new level to such an extent that a difference in degree may be a difference in kind. Not only is his team spending an inordinate amount of time going after the Fox News network and Republican talk radio hosts but they’re questioning the entire agenda of the mainstream press corps.

    You mean like every President before him? I remember when reporters who questioned President Bush were described as “unpatriotic”. I haven’t seen Obama’s Administration do anything like that. Suggesting that Fox News is a partisan news outlet is hardly the stuff of censorship. After all, Fox News pretty much IS a partisan news outlet.

    And Obama’s got nothing on Thomas Jefferson, who used to pay reporters to dig up dirt on Hamilton and Adams, while he was serving in the Adams Administration as Vice-president.

  4. JVB says:

    This would be hilarious if it weren’t so scary. Any one who compares Obama’s war with FOX to any thing remotely similar to Bush is where Obama-rose-colored glasses and simply chooses to be obtuse.

  5. JVB says:

    Should have said..wearing.

  6. Here’s a thought: maybe Fox should try being an actual news channel. Then they could object to being described as a GOP house organ without making people laugh.

    Ailes made this bed. It’s profitable, but it isn’t news. It’s not even in the same room as news. Like pornographers or advertising agencies they chose profit over fealty to some abstract standard of appropriateness. They have what they wanted. They make profit, so they should quit bitching and cash their checks.

  7. In the newer post James refers us to Goldberg. Here’s what Goldberg had to say in a Q&A:

    Q: You state that “Woodrow Wilson was the twentieth century’s first fascist dictator.” Would you talk a little about that and the assault on civil liberties that occurred in this country during World War I.

    A: The late sociologist Robert Nisbet once wrote, that the “West’s first real experience with totalitarianism — political absolutism extended into every possible area of culture and society, education, religion, industry, the arts, local community and family included, with a kind of terror always waiting in the wings — came with the American war state under Wilson.” Nisbet was right. Under Wilson, American newspapers and magazines were censored, threatened, harassed and intimidated.

    … but “Obama has taken it to a new level” because … he’s Obama.

  8. A commenter might ask which you prefer, straight up pushback against some sources, or Cheney style off-the-record manipulation.

    … isn’t somebody in jail?