Obama Meets Vox: 'I’ve Seen Subtler Scientology Recruitment Films'

Brutal takeaway line from Jack Shafer at the Politico on “All the President’s Explainers:”

In the example of Klein and Yglesias, they’re less interested in interviewing Obama than they are in explaining his policies. Again and again, they serve him softball—no, make that Nerf ball—questions and then insert infographics and footnotes that help advance White House positions. Vox has lavished such spectacular production values on the video version of the Obama interview—swirling graphics and illustrations, background music (background music!?), aggressive editing, multiple camera angles—that the clips look end up looking and sounding like extended commercials for the Obama-in-2016 campaign. I’ve seen subtler Scientology recruitment films.

Explainer journalism, as practiced by Klein, purports to break down complex policy issues into laymen-friendly packages that are issued from the realm of pure reason. But as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry succinctly put it last summer in The Week, “Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise” that “often looks more like a right-wing caricature of what a partisan media outlet dressed up as an explainer site would look like.”

As a sometime partisan commenter, I venerate partisan commentary because it can cut through the protective Styrofoam cladding politicians love to wrap their messages in. But if you’re going to be partisan about your journalism, if you’re going to give the president an easy ride, you’ve got to be clean about it! You can’t pretend, as Klein did when he founded Vox, that you’re taking a neutral approach to news, and that all you’re doing is making the news “vegetables” more palatable by roasting them “perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt.” Klein and Yglesias are like two Roman Curia cardinals who want us to believe their exclusive interview with the pope is on the level.


Prior to the 2008 election, Ezra Klein founded the JournoList, the self-described “Non-Official Campaign” to elect Obama, which keeps rolling on for both Ezra and Barry in the form of Vox. And whatever else his flaws, it’s increasingly obvious Jeff Bezos made at least one smart decision when he bought the Washington Post.

(Though to be fair, getting Obama to admit that he views Muslim attacks on French Jews as just another random shooting is quite the coup, but not in the apple-polishing way that Matt and Ezra intended.)


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