Ed Driscoll

'Everything's Bigger in Texas . . . Even the Irritation to President Obama'

In his Morning Jolt this, err morning, Jim Geraghty rounds up the fun from the Lone Star State:

Politico thinks Obama’s prickly exchanges with a television reporter from a Dallas affiliate is revealing:

When the even-keeled and cool President Obama gets prickly in public, it never goes unnoticed.

For Obama, who has carefully cultivated a reputation of easily managing confrontations with people who disagree with him, these moments are as rare as they are revealing of the person behind the presidency.

So it’s no surprise that Washington took notice when after a tense interview with a Texas TV reporter on Monday, Obama unclipped his microphone with no smile in sight, and tersely warned, “Let me finish my answers next time we do an interview, all right?”

The president of the United States was not happy. Obama had been corrected (he lost Texas by 12 points, not “a few,” in 2008), he was accused of punishing the state for political reasons (he denied that the White House had any part in the decision not to award a space shuttle to Houston), and he was challenged with the most basic of political questions: Why are you so unpopular in Texas?

And all that in a setting the White House anticipated would be largely free of tricky questions.

Doug Ross thinks it’s long overdue: “Perhaps now we know why legacy media blistered Sarah Palin with complex, amorphous policy questions while simultaneously lobbing softballs to Obama. Kudos to WFAA reporter Brad Watson for his straightforward questioning of the president. Has America ever had a more petulant and narcissistic man serve in the White House? For you drones: that’s a rhetorical question.”

At the Backyard Conservative, Ann Leary wonders if the Obama communications team is trying to run a 2008 playbook in a 2011 issue environment: “If the president wants to pursue a campaign of speeches that seem to be recycled from his 2008 ascension to the White House, that’s up to him. A retreat to the Rose Garden, or Michelle’s garden may end up being the only place he feels comfortable. But even the roses have thorns and I presume Michelle planted some spinach. Maybe he can reinvent himself as Popeye, strong to the finich! since the Superman shtick isn’t working for him any more.”

Bryan Preston notes White House Press Secretary Jay Carney cracked some jokes when reporters asked whether Obama has done his last interview with Brad Watson. “Out: Transparency. In: Punishing your enemies! . . . From a comms point of view, it can make sense to slag one outlet or journalist against another, but not in such a ham-handed way as this. That art requires some subtlety. But I don’t think the Obama White House is going for subtlety here, they’re going for message, telling all reporters to let The One sandbag them, and otherwise to watch what they ask. Reporters are noticing thanks to Drudge; as this sort of behavior wears thin, and it will quickly, the WH may find that its snarling has only bought it more aggressive questioning. Stop laughing. I’m not talking about the WH lap dog press corps, but reporters in flyover country still looking to make a name for themselves. I bet most readers here hadn’t heard of Brad Watson until today.”

A wise Washington communications professional is unimpressed with a few other moves on Carney’s part lately: “You put things out [like Obama’s about-face on signing statements] on a Friday night for a reason, not to bring it up 5 days later with a laughable threading of the needle,” this professional observes. “Look at his other tweets from today, like when he apologizes for not responding to reporters because he got caught up in meetings. Good grief! What was he doing, briefing the president for his Dallas interview?!”

Well . . . at least he’s not Gibbs.

This notion by the Journolist-friendly Politico that Obama is consistently “even-keeled and cool” is a throwback to the media-created myth of “President Spock” in 2008 and early 2009 — the real Obama certainly didn’t seem too even-keeled and cool on the campaign trail last year, consistently driving cars and other ham-handed metaphors into Slurpee-filled ditches.

But what’s curious is the White House’s response to Obama once again losing his cool, in the same Politico article that Jim quotes above:

Pfeiffer was asked by Time reporter Michael Scherer, “So will WFAA’s Brad Watson get another interview one day?”

Instead of quickly taking the high road, Pfeiffer suggested that Watson may truly be out in the cold after irritating the president. And he did it by revealing yet another trick of Washington communications: playing one news outlet against its rival.

“Right around the time we do our next interview with @TIME. I am kidding … or am I. @Newsweek is on the other line,” Pfeiffer responded.

In his later days, Stanley Kubrick occasionally liked to quote the old Hollywood aphorism that “when a director dies, he becomes a cameraman.” In 2008, old media died and became PR flacks and gatekeepers for Obama. For those few journalists left (apparently it helps to not work in the BOS-NY-WASH Northeast Corridor), as Bryan wrote above, isn’t developing a rep that you’re so tough, the president refuses to speak with you a pretty nifty thing to have on your resumé?

A thousand years ago, when Gerald Ford was in office and his press secretary was dumb enough to go on the Chevy Chase-era Saturday Night Live, as the SNL writers were preparing their material that week, one of them quipped, “The President’s watching. Let’s make him cringe and squirm.”

If Obama’s public approval number continues to erode, and if their testiness remains visible, will a few other enterprising journalists remember the good old days of their profession and want to make this president cringe and squirm?

The clothes have no emperor, fellas.