Two major and complementary headlines have come out of President Obama’s interview with Univision on Thursday. The first is that the hosts asked surprisingly tough questions, grilling the president about security in Benghazi, his failures, Fast and Furious and immigration reform. The second is that Obama didn’t appear to expect such a tough outing. The cross-examination left him justifying why he hasn’t fired Eric Holder, spewing that immigration reform is more important than getting the economy moving, and that he now realizes he can’t change Washington from the inside.
The Romney campaign and the RNC have found President Obama’s interview on Univision to be one of the most useful appearances the president has made in months. The president wasn’t just off his game, he looked like he hadn’t really played the game much at a high level before.
So what happened?
I have a hunch.
President Obama leads strongly among Latino voters. Based on how reporters in the English-speaking media treat issues like Fast and Furious, he probably expected an easy ride through the Univision appearance. He probably expected to play a game of softball, as he had with People en Espanol on Friday at the height of the unrest in the Middle East. That magazine apparently let Obama bat around until his arms got tired, then tweeted their joy at being privileged to bask in his presence.
So he goes into Univision thinking “This is gonna be another easy day of hitting for the fences.” Like he handled his Presidential Daily Briefings, he didn’t do his homework. He didn’t realize that Univision strives to be more than an entertainment hub, it strives to be a serious news network. Univision goes out of its way to hire bilingual hard news reporters so it can piggy back with other local news stations and generate news content in English and Spanish (Telemundo does this too). He didn’t factor in the possibility that Univision wanted to do more than just give him straight pitches down the middle, they wanted to use the opportunity of a rare extended interview with him to get answers, and make some headlines of their own. He didn’t anticipate the threat of tough questions from real and inquisitive journalists, just as his administration didn’t anticipate the threat of terrorists using the 9-11 anniversary to give America a black eye.
What I’m saying is, Barack Obama lumped Univision in with the unserious media he tends to do — Letterman, People en Espanol, and so forth. The media his campaign gives his time to tend to slow jam the news and tell him how fabulous he is. Switching metaphors, his handlers keep the training wheels on, with the bolts welded to the frame. Univision ripped those training wheels off, sending little Barry crashing in ditch. He ended up saying he can’t change Washington, and his biggest failure has been to pander sufficiently on immigration reform when we have 23 million Americans who want work but can’t find it thanks to him and his policies. He had no answer why the consulate in Benghazi wasn’t secured or why Eric Holder has gotten away with a policy that has left hundreds of Mexican citizens and two American agents dead. He saw none of these questions coming.
Whether Obama stereotyped Univision because most media tend to make life easier for him, or he disrespected the Spanish-speaking network and its audience as such, I’ll leave for others to ponder. They’re not mutually exclusive.