News & Politics

Is Obama Planning to Launch a Post-Presidential Media Empire?

President Barack Obama, left, laughs while listening to host Jimmy Fallon on the set of the "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," at NBC Studios in New York, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The president was in New York to raise money for Democrats and to reach out to the young voters. (Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday, Pool Photo via AP)

President Obama is considering a career in digital media following his presidency, anonymous sources told Mic. The White House has denied the president has such plans, but his tenure as president and his recent actions in media suggest the president may indeed be considering such a course.

“Obama considers media to be a central focus of his next chapter, these sources say, though exactly what form that will take — a show streaming on Netflix, a web series on a comedy site or something else — remains unclear,” wrote Mic’s Jake Horowitz. He paraphrased one source who said Obama has discussed “launching his own media company,” but another source reportedly said he has “cooled on the idea of late.”

White House Communications Director Jen Psaki told Mic the president has no media-related plans after January 2015. “While the president will remain actively engaged in inspiring young people and he is interested in changing the ways people consume information, he has no plans to get into the media business after he leaves office,” she said.

One source reportedly told Mic that Obama met privately with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and co-founder of Facebook, to discuss the idea on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Lima, Peru, late last month.

Even apart from Mic’s sources, however, Obama’s history and recent actions do indeed suggest a lasting interest in media. Over the past eight years, the president has used social media and the Internet in inventive ways that altered the way Americans view the presidency. Obama is famous for his short-form Internet videos, using the latest technology to make him relatable much in the same way as Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio in his “Fireside Chats.”

When Obama told Rolling Stone his post-presidential plans this week, the president said that after a long nap and a vacation, he would write a book and start “organizing my presidential center.” That center will be focused on “the next generation of leadership” and involve the question, “How do we rethink our storytelling, the messaging and the use of technology and digital media, so that we can make a persuasive case across the country?”

Next Page: What Obama sees as the biggest problem with journalism today.

Obama said the problem with media now is not that good journalism doesn’t exist, but that “people are getting a hundred different visions of the world from a hundred different outlets…and that is ramping up divisions.” The search for viral content is “making people exaggerate or say what’s most controversial or peddling in the most vicious of insults or lies, because that attracts eyeballs.”

Solving this problem is “not going to be simply and issue of subsidizing or propping up traditional media; it’s going to be figuring out how do we organize in a virtual world the same way we organize in the physical world.” That sounds exactly like Obama-community-organizing speak for “creating a new digital media empire.”

Obama is a man on a mission — and according to The New Yorker, he was very disturbed by a BuzzFeed story about 100 pro-Trump websites reporting on fake news. The president said the success of these fabricated stories “means everything is true and nothing is true.” Naturally, he applied this to climate alarmism, adding, “an explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll” (as if no real scientist could actually engage in scientific inquiry on this sacred subject).

If Obama does pursue a media career, this would be a perfect ironic reversal of stories before the election reporting on President-elect Donald Trump’s rumored plans to launch a TV network with Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, former Fox head Roger Ailes, and Sean Hannity.The Financial Times even reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a media baron in his own right, had approached an investor about funding a Trump network. As would be expected, Trump’s campaign denied any such plans.

President Obama deserves some rest after serving as commander in chief. (Many of us would love to see him extend that vacation indefinitely.) But here is a liberal progressive with fire in his belly — it seems hard to believe the community organizer would keep quiet after leaving the Oval Office. Let us hope that if he launches a media company, it performs more like Al Gore’s unsuccessful Current TV.