Political pundits and commentators harshly criticized a speech by President Obama in which he took journalists to task for the way they were covering the presidential campaign.
The president spoke at a journalism awards event and complained that world leaders are worried about the direction of the campaign and that reporters have failed to fact-check claims by candidates.
“The number one question I’m getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, ‘What is happening in America?’ about our politics,” Obama said, describing international alarm over whether the United States will continue to function effectively.
“It’s not because around the world people have not seen crazy politics. It is that they understand America is the place where you can’t afford completely crazy politics,” he said.
“When our elected officials and our political campaigns become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations,” Obama said.
He said the media landscape has changed since his first presidential campaign in 2008, when “there was a price if you said one thing and then did something completely different.
“The question is, in the current media environment, is that still true? Does that still hold?” he said.
He said news organizations have a responsibility to dig deeper despite the faster pace of “this smartphone age” and steep financial pressures in the news business.
Voters “would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep,” Obama said.
But most reporters were unimpressed, citing the lack of availability of the president and his administration’s slow-walking FOIA requests.
“There’s a man lecturing the media on how to do their business,” said MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday. “The man who has not sat down for an extended interview with the Washington Post in seven and a half years, and yet gladly submits himself to being interviewed by YouTube stars who sit in bathtubs with milk and Fruitloops.”
Obama is known for preferring non-traditional media venues to push his administration’s view on policy and politics, such as the time he met with YouTube celebrities. The White House has also been criticized for lacking transparency and for delayed responses to Freedom of Information requests.
“Any reporter who’s dealt with this White house will say it’s as frustrating, if not more frustrating, than dealing with past presidents,” said Politico CEO Jim VandeHei.
Several reporters said on Twitter that Obama’s remarks seemed to be mostly aimed at political coverage that goes against him or Democrats. That point was echoed by liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who said on Morning Joe, “It just drives me nuts, [Obama] lectures us about how to cover Donald Trump, basically.”
Robinson added that “in fact, we write the stories, we write the stories about how [Trump’s] numbers don’t add up and it doesn’t make any sense. The frustration is that the voters keep voting of him and we’re are supposed to do something about that?”
Other reporters were also taken aback by Obama’s criticism of the news media.
“Hey thanks Obama for your chill comments on journalism, maybe tell the FBI to fulfill a FOIA in less than a year while you’re at it,” said one New Jersey-based reporter on Twitter, following the president’s comments.
The reporters have a point, but so does Obama. It isn’t only Trump who makes wild, unsupportable claims. Bernie Sanders’s economic critique is full of exaggerations and half-truths. And Hillary Clinton continues to use dubious statistics to make her points about a “war on women.”
Agenda-driven journalism – no matter from which side – ill serves the voter because it colors issues and personalities while failing to fully inform us of the consequences and benefits of a candidate’s ideas. It is a prism through which only a part of reality is allowed.
Someone with an interest in politics really has to work to get some semblance of the truth, reading multiple sources and straining the information through his own filters. It shouldn’t have to be like this – it’s not what a free press was set up to be. But it’s what we have at the moment, and President Obama has done nothing to change it.
A version of this piece also appeared at The American Thinker