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Travels With Barack: The president hits the road to sell the stimulus package, and finds a surprisingly lack of cynicism along the way.
Perhaps spending too much time inside the anti-stimulus Beltway press bubble, the Newsweek reporter expresses amazement:
The president's town-hall audiences display a discernable lack of cynicism about politics, government and the capacity for D.C. to change under his stewardship. For years, polls have shown the deep disillusionment most Americans feel with the political process and with their representatives in D.C. But when Obama announced midway through Tuesday's Ft. Myers town-hall meeting that the Senate had voted to pass the stimulus package, the crowd cheered. And it wasn't just polite applause for the president's pet project. It was a loud, enthusiastic standing ovation for a piece of legislation. It's hard to recall the last time Congress, which has been haunted by dim approval ratings, received boisterous acclaim for passing a bill.
Don't these town hall attendees watch cable TV? Don't they know it's just a wasteful spending bill?
Today, it's in the form of a brief editorial (no link found) headlined "Obama's Press List," which chastised Obama for referring to a list of reporters he was going to call on during his Monday press conference
The President was running down a list of reporters pre-selected to ask questions. the White House had decided in advance who would be allowed to question the President and who was left out.
We actually agree with the main point; that presidents ought not to use cheat sheets at press conferences for the simple task of calling on reporters. (It tends to cheapen the process.) But the Journal then immediately drove into a ditch when it claimed Obama's predecessor would have never done something like that:
We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with pre-screening his interlocutors.
Except, of course, when Bush did pre-screen his queries, like during his primetime news conference on the eve of war with Iraq in 2003. From Lapdogs [emphasis added]:
At one point while making his way through the press questioners, Bush awkwardly referred to a list of reporters who he was instructed to call on. "This is scripted," he joked. The press laughed. But Bush meant it was scripted, literally. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later admitted he compiled Bush's cheat sheet, which made sure he did not call on reporters from some prominent outlets like Time, Newsweek, USA Today, or The Washington Post.
Rachel Sklar offered up an interesting take on the comparison, in the wake of Tapper's "pissing" match last with WH flak Robert Gibbs. (Tapper pretty much lectured Gibbs following a rather mundane exchange between the two. Y'know, just like reporters used to lecture Ari Fleischer back in February 2001.....)
According to Sklar, the much-discussed scuffle caused quite a tizzy inside the press room.
Tapper won that point—we've seen just how pertinent it is to Cabinet nominees that they pay their taxes—but with it came something else: the title of Briefing Room Badass.
And then came the inevitable comparison with NBC's David Gregory. Reported Sklar:
No less than three separate Washington political reporters spontaneously compared him to Gregory, who made his name being a thorn in the side of various White House press secretaries.
Interesting point. But here's where the lack of context comes in within the WH press room. The Tapper/Gibbs exchange took place during the third week of the Obama administration. David Gregory however, did not make a name for himself as a thorn in the side of the Bush White House until like four years after Bush was sworn into office.
Interesting, right? The WH press corps is all atwitter just days into the Democratic term over who's going to be the official press room "Badass" during the Democratic administration. But that's something nobody in the same press room even thought about becoming until 50 months into Bush's tenure.
No double standard there, right?
In fact, get this. During the first 100 days of the Bush White House back in 2001, Gregory, rather than being a pitbull, was honored by the right-wing Media Research Center as the Best White House Correspondent for Gregory's pro-Bush coverage.
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A Wall Street Journal editorial falsely suggested that, unlike President Obama, former President Bush never used "a list of reporters preselected to ask questions" when deciding who to call on at presidential press conferences. In fact, Bush also used such a list, as former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in a March 2003 press briefing.
In the Financial Times, columnist Martin Wolf, addressing Obama's handling of the unfolding financial crisis, writes:
Has Barack Obama's presidency already failed? In normal times, this would be a ludicrous question. But these are not normal times.
I had to chuckle. Wolf prefaced his comments by ackowleding it normally would be "ludicrous" for a pundit just weeks into a new president's term to declare it a failure. Sheer madness.
What Wolf should have suggested was that it would be ludicrous for a pundit just weeks into a new Republican president's term to declare it a failure. Because that truly is crazy talk. Nobody in the press would ever air such an insulting claim. But when it comes to declaring Democratic presidents to be complete failures just weeks into their tenure, that's old habit by now.
See, members of the press did the same thing back in 1993, the last time a new Democratic president arrived in the White House. As I noted in a November column:
On January 31, 1993, 12 days after Clinton had been sworn into office, Sam Donaldson appeared on ABC and made this jarring announcement: "Last week, we could talk about, 'Is the honeymoon over?' This week, we can talk about, 'Is the presidency over?' " (At the time, Clinton's approval rating hovered around 65 percent.)
I'm chuckling again reading about Clinton's 65 percent approval rating at the time of the media's failed presidency meme: Isn't that the exact same approval rating Obamaacknowledging enjoys today?
I recently dissected Goldberg's dreadful media critique published over at USA Today last week, noting that in order to prove Obama's has had a press honeymoon Goldberg had to stoop to inventing news invents. Never a good sign when you're pretending to be a media critique.
Goldberg has responded over NRO and it's telling he never even addressed the fact that I called him out for concocting a story about how Obama allegedly "walked into an Oval Office window." Goldberg used that as a pillar in his column to illustrate how the press looked away when Obama goofed. But Obama never did what Goldberg claimed he did, which is why the press never covered the fabricated story. (A radical idea, I know.) I highlighted that fact in my column and Goldberg, tellingly, doesn't want to touch it in his response.
I also called Goldberg out for making a false statement in the very first sentence of his column when he claimed that Obama has been "relentlessly" comparing himself to FDR. As I noted, Obama had occasionally evoked FDR, as is custom for new Democratic presidents, but there was simply no evidence to claim that Obama himself has been "relentlessly" comparing himself to FDR.
On that point, Goldberg claims I got it wrong, that Obama has "relentlessly" compared himself to FDR. Goldberg's entire proof? A 60 Minutes interview when Obama said this:
There's a new book out about FDR's first 100 days and what you see in FDR that I hope my team can— emulate, is not always getting it right, but projecting a sense of confidence, and a willingness to try things.
In order to prove that Obama has "relentlessly" compared himself to FDR, Goldberg points to a single interview where Obama, just as I said, had evoked FDR.
Now might be a good time for Goldberg to reflect on the difference between Obama occasionally mentioning FDR, and Obama "relentlessly" comparing himself to FDR. In his USA Today column, Goldberg claimed the latter. In his response to me, Goldberg tries to document the former. (Note that Goldberg, king of the strawmen, spends the bulk of his defense documenting something I never even disputed; that pundits and supporters have compared Obama to FDR.)
Meanwhile Jonah, if you ever try to explain away that Obama-walked-into-a-window story you invented, let me know and I'll be sure to post it.
UPDATE: Note that in his USA Today column, Goldberg, as proof of the Obama honeymoon, pointed to CNN's John King who claimed at the time of inauguration that "nobody disputed" that journalists had become caught up in the historic nature of Obama's victory. (A quote I was originally unable to confirm.)
Goldberg pointed to the King quote as an ah-ha! moment: Even journalists admitted they were being soft on Obama! First, note the King quote was from before Obama had even been sworn in and Goldberg used it in a column about Obama's press coverage after he became president.
But more importantly, in my piece when I quoted several Beltway journalists in recent days, including one from the conservative Washington Times, insisting Obama's honeymoon was over, Goldberg dismisses that as pointless. In his defense to my column he wrote:
[Boehlert] cites as proof the press has been hard on Obama, inside the beltway "chatter" about how the press has been hard on Obama. Obviously, we should take the press corps own back-patting as proof of the yeoman work they've been doing.
Do you see the unique Goldberg logic? When a Beltway journalist like CNN's King suggests there might be a honeymoon, it's proof positive and everybody should take note. But when other Beltway journalists subsequently report honeymoon's over, that's irrelevant because you can't trust Beltway journalists to tell the truth.
Greg Sargent has a good write-up on Sam Stein's question at last night's prime-time Presidential press conference. Noting the real innovation behind The Huffington Post reporter's turn in the spotlight had more to do with what the outlets are doing online than the ideology of their reporters:
Some at the traditional news orgs are likely to see this decision as proof that the White House is determined to make use of an evolving Web-based apparatus of lefty news orgs that's supposedly more committed to advancing a partisan agenda than to doing balanced journalism. Whatever the White House's motives, the point is that some traditional journalists are likely to see the decision through the prism of their own presumed journalistic superiority.
But the real innovation isn't in what Obama did. It's in what outlets like HuffPo are doing. Places like HuffPo and my alma mater, Talking Points Memo, are striving to demonstrate that it needn't necessarily be mutually exclusive to care along with your audience what happens in politics -- to have a predisposition towards one outcome or another -- while simultaneously doing real journalism. This innovation isn't wholly confined to the left, though even some conservatives admit that it's more advanced on the liberal side.
Stein writes for an outlet whose predispositions are well known, but he produces fair, even-handed, thoroughly reported pieces. In other words, he's a legit reporter. And so ultimately it's perfectly natural that Obama took his question.
A New York Times essay by Jason DeParle highlighted a resurgence of the use of the word "welfare" among conservatives, this time to attack President Obama's economy recovery plan. Indeed, while economists agree that provisions in the legislation targeting needy people are among the most economically stimulative, Media Matters documents below the pervasiveness of what DeParle called the "weaponiz[ation]" of the "very word, welfare," in the media, particularly, but not exclusively on Fox News, to denounce the stimulus bill.
This is becoming somewhat comical the way members of the press are noting that three weeks into his first term Obama has failed to make all sorts of sweeping political, cultural and diplomatic changes.
From a Journal column by Bret Stephens which, yes, sorta reads like The Onion:
Barack Obama has now been president for 21 days, following an inauguration that was supposed to have pressed the reset button on America's relations with the wider world and ushered in a new period of global cooperation against common threats.
See? Obama hasn't substantively altered America's relations round the world in three weeks time. Fraud!
Having helped lead the Beltway media charge in the Obama's-losing-the-message-war brigade surrounding the stimulus bill, The Note, conceding that Obama's Monday night press conference helped changed the dynamics of that message war, quickly shifts gears and today starts hyping Obama doom-and-gloom surrounding the bank bailout legislation:
President Obama can still dictate a message -- as Monday's hour-long primetime news conference (just 13 questions, with answers as mini-lectures) clearly showed. But he has a long way to go before Washington will be his -- as the narrow Senate vote, and the tenuous compromise that's emerging out of Congress, show equally well.
As for what he needs Washington to come through on -- that gets even more complicated Tuesday. Now the president needs the nation to swallow not just an $800 billion stimulus package, but more help for banks (rivals of Congress in the race for low approval ratings these days).
Did you notice how Obama's been president three full weeks and Washington still is not yet his? (What's wrong with this guy!?) BTW, love the doomsday "narrow Senate vote" language. Because in case you already forgot, the senate vote on closure for the stimulus bill was 61-36.
Even by Washington Times standards, Joseph Curl's column today is notable for its use of completely bogus assertions in order to try to make Barack Obama look bad.
Take a look at this passage, for example:
None of it mattered, though, because Mr. Obama called reporters from a list on the podium, and reporters buzzed afterward about how he didn't seem to know a single reporter he called on - at least in the front row.
"And let me go to Jennifer Loven at AP," the president said, looking to his left, and then back a row or two before finding the AP reporter front and center, about eight feet from the podium. "Ah, there you are."
"Caren Bohan of Reuters?" he said after finishing a long economics tutorial. He looked left and right before finding the red-headed reporter - right next to Miss Loven.
"All right. Chuck Todd. Where's Chuck?" Mr. Obama said before finding the goateed reporter in the third row. "Ed Henry. Where's Ed? CNN. There he is," he said shortly after Mr. Henry stood up. "Major Garrett. Where is Major?" he said before finding the reporter back in the cheap seats.
Curl claims the buzz was that Obama didn't seem to know the reporters he called on. But the evidence he provides actually proves the opposite. Curl thinks he's describing Obama not knowing who the reporters are - but he isn't; he's describing Obama not knowing where the reporters are sitting. Indeed, Curl's examples indicate that Obama does know the reporters - if he didn't know who they are, he wouldn't have found them.
Elsewhere, Curl complains that "Sam Stein of the archly liberal Huffington Post" and the "unabashedly liberal" Ed Schultz were seated in the front row. But Curl's complaint isn't that ideological reporters were seated in the front row; his complaint is that liberal reporters were in the front row. See, Curl is also upset that "Fox News' Major Garrett was dispatched to the fourth row, far to the right of the presidential podium." Given Fox's track record, they should be relieved that anyone still plays along with the idea that they're a news organization rather than annoyed that they had to suffer the indignity of sitting in the fourth row at a press conference.
Finally, Curl lead his column with several paragraphs about members of the black press who were upset that they didn't get to ask a question. Curl noted:
While most on the front row got to pose a question to President Obama, the two reporters from the black press did not. Nor did any other black-press reporter, for that matter.
Now, that's fine as far as it goes, and Curl presumably didn't make up the quotes he included from two reporters complaining that they didn't get to ask a question. But it is more than a little odd that Curl didn't note until the very end of the column, after the nonsense about Obama not knowing the reporters that he called on, that Obama took questions from two black reporters:
The president ticked through all the usual suspects, calling on the three wires and all five networks before hitting The Washington Post and New York Times, both of whom sent black reporters. The only other question from outside the box was from NPR.
"Mara Liasson?" the president said as he scanned the crowd.
Politico is amplifying Curl's column (can Drudge be far behind?) -- and actually out-did Curl in one regard, asserting: "At the presser, one black reporter did get called on, The Wash Post's Michael Fletcher." Actually, it was two: Fletcher and Helene Cooper of the New York Times.