Sunday, August 11, 2013

Media: The weak press, the weak press conference

A petulant Barack Obama finally held a press conference Friday.  It was brief and it was a joke and, most of all, it existed in a world where honest questioning was apparently forbidden.


Facing the press corps for the first time since April, Barack looked awkward.  It's worth noting that one-term president Jimmy Carter held 59 press conferences while in office and one-term president George H.W. Bush held 137.  Barack is now past the half-way mark of the first year of his second term and he's only held 81 press conferences.  (Stats are from the American Presidency Project.)  This was only Barack's third press conference of the year.  Bill Clinton held 21 press conferences in the first year of his second term.

81 press conferences is disappointing especially when you consider Barack's pledge to be transparent or, for that matter, his golfing.  CBS News' Mark Knoller noted Friday:

  • As Pres Obama heads to the Vineyard, his golf stats stand at 133 rounds (not including a session of mini-golf with daughter Sasha.)

  • He's now played his 134 round of golf.

    No doubt, this was "a lot of good work that has been done" (to steal from Barack's awkward phrases Friday).  Also of no doubt, he really doesn't want you thinking about his golfing.

    No, high school buddy and golfing chum Bobby Titcomb hasn't been busted again for solicitation of a male prostitute.  This time, Geoff Earle (New York Post) reports,  it's golfing buddy Dr. Eric Whitaker who is "is cooperating with the feds as they probe a $433,000 kickback scheme" involving a man Whitaker directly supervised.

    Press conferences are presidential duties so it's distressing that he's held so few and disappointing that he's taken to the links 53 more times than he has to the podium to field questions.

    Maybe his lack of practice explains why he couldn't make it to sixty minutes.  49 minutes in, he had begun to stammer, stutter, lose his pace and offer a new speaking gesture which was notable only for its degrees of strangeness.  By the fifty minute mark, with Barack still speaking, advisors frantically called for him to wrap up because his fading was becoming obvious even to the press corps.  If you missed what was alarming them especially, it was this.

    Barack Obama:  I don't know a law that solves a problem 100%.  [Long pause.]  Social Security lifted millions of Americans out of poverty but there are still some seniors.  [Longer pause.]  The Civil Rights Act and The Voting Act drastically reduced discrimination in America but there's still discrimination.  [Pause.]  That doesn't make them bad laws. [Pause.]  It just means that [pause] there are very few [pause] human problems that are, uh, 100% solvable.  [Long pause as Barack repeatedly blinks his eyes.]  So, uh, what I see right now . . .

    At one point ("and get that bill, uh, on the floor") one administration source said Barack looked like he was falling asleep in front of the press corps.  But even he admitted that, if that happened, "80% of the press present would ignore it."

    They ignore a great deal.  As Barack trashed NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden and laughably insisted that the current conversation would have taken place without Snowden, not one reporter present asked about James Clapper and Clapper's lying to Congress about the spying program.

    Friday on KPFA's Living Room (guest host was Kevin Pina) Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee) observed:

    . . . and I would just say the real figure here who I think who exposes the president's, I dare say, hypocrisy on this issue is James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, who has lied to Congress, which also exposes the further hypocrisy in the president's comments.  He's talking about the need for an orderly process and debate, this is the fifth year of his presidency and there has been no effort not only to undertake an orderly process and review until now but also there's been no oversight by Congress.  And when Congress has tried to do oversight, the Executive Branch has actively stonewalled that effort.  The administration has not been forthcoming about responses to tough Congressional questions and when members of Congress have asked the Director of National Intelligence direct questions, he has lied to Congress on the record and we have the smoking gun evidence.  How is it that Edward Snowden is appropriately prosecuted when senior executive officials are lying to the American people.  Those are the criminals, not the whistle-blowers  conscientiously trying to reveal to the American public the abuses being committed to us en mass  in our name using our tax dollars. I think the president has it absolutely wrong here -- both about Edward Snowden and I think it's striking that he's not mentioning that some of his senior officials are apparently criminals and should face appropriate prosecution.

    Barack trashed Ed Snowden, declared him to not be a patriot (a declaration no president has a right to make) but he has yet to publicly call out Clapper for lying to Congress, he has yet to call for Clapper to be charged and prosecuted.

    Whatever happened to his promises of accountability and transparency?

    It's not just that the press ignores.  It's also that they're complicit.  The press conference was staged. Barack worked from a list and when someone veered from the approved script (NBC News' Chuck Todd), Barack called them out insisting on the agreed upon format, that "everyone is asking [only] one question," as Barack reminded.

    A functioning press would have pointed this out and pointed out how disturbing it is that Barack is unable to answer a two-part question off the top of his head, how something so basic is beyond him. A functioning press would be using that to raise larger questions about Barack's abilities.

    But a functioning press would not accept only 3 press conferences this year.  And a functioning press would have pushed back when Barack claimed, "I don't have a bad personal relationship with Putin."  That claim was laughable -- especially after Barack went on went on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Tuesday night and insulted Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly -- referring to "Cold War-thinking" and "Cold-War mentality" and  lying that Putin had "headed up the KGB" (see "Barack the little bitch" and "Iraq snapshot").

    A functioning press, aware that Barack's 'bonding moments' are with men only (golfing and basketball) and the administration's repeated sexism issues, would have felt this statement by Barack worthy of commentary, "I have a range of outstanding candidates.  You mentioned two of them -- Mr. Summers and Mr. Yelln -- Ms. Yellen."

    A functioning press would have been all over the lack of action by Barack on the spying.  Instead, NBC News wrongly 'reported' that reforms were announced.  No, they weren't.  Reforms have to take place to be announced.  Possible plans ("we can take steps," Barack declared at one point) were floated in the press conference.

    On Friday's Free Speech Radio News, attorney David Remes observed, "President Obama is very good at creating the illusion of movement even when he's standing still."  He was speaking of Guantanamo but he might as well have been analyzing the press conference.  Or, as the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus pointed out on Friday's NewsHour (PBS), "He sort of announced a four-point plan to have a four-point plan. The details are kind of to come."

    Those are rare voices of honesty in the media.  Even rarer are the critics pointing out that Barack's not attempting to stop the illegal spying, he's attempting to make Americans buy into it.  Appearing on CBS' Face The Nation this morning, former CIA Director Michael Hayden pointed out, "The president is trying to take some steps to make the American people more comfortable about what it is we're doing."  Hayden thinks this is great.  We find it appalling but are glad at least someone admits that this isn't about ending these illegal programs.  How telling that the observation came from a former US official and not from a journalist covering the press conference.

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