White House on ‘private sector is doing fine’: We’re for ‘good reporting filled with context’
Should out-of-context statements be out-of-bounds in campaigns?
That’s the question following last week’s remark by President Obama that “the private sector is doing fine” – a statement on which Republicans wasted no time in seizing to make their case that Obama is out-of-touch on the economy.
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod argued Sunday that Mitt Romney’s camp “chose to jump on the word” rather than the spirit of the remark.
But asked at Monday’s press briefing whether misleading sound bites should be off-limits for both campaigns, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney argued that it’s up to the press – not the campaigns themselves – to provide context:
QUESTION: I’m just asking -- you’re asking for fairness. ... Is it fair that the standard go both ways?
CARNEY: Well, certainly we believe that you all ought to do your jobs and report on context. Of course, we think that’s important generally. You’re asking me to speculate about what someone might say in the future and the context of it, and I simply can’t do that. But if you’re asking me if we’re for good reporting filled with context, the answer is yes. ... I would say that our general position is we’re for truthful, factual, accurate reporting done in context.
The exchange is a telling one in that Carney stopped short of saying it’s the responsibility of campaigns to put their opponents’ remarks in the proper context.
And sure enough, on Monday morning the SEIU and the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action launched a Spanish-language ad campaign featuring a “greatest hits” of Romney’s campaign-trail gaffes, including his “I like to fire people” and “I’m not concerned about the very poor” stumbles.
For their part, allies of Obama and Romney argued Monday that their chosen remarks weren’t, in fact, taken out of context — and that they don’t plan to change their tactics anytime soon.
“Mitt Romney saying that he’s not concerned about the very poor, for starters, that has a direct correlation to the policies he supports,” Priorities USA co-founder Bill Burton said on a conference call with reporters, arguing that Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget blueprint, which Romney has embraced, represents “a shifting of the tax burden onto the very poor.”
While the “fire people” quote doesn’t provide further context, Burton added, “it certainly is the exact sentiment he was trying to get across.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Ga.), a member who initially supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP race, responded Monday to a question about Obama’s “private sector” remark by arguing that the president’s meaning was clear in his remarks.
“He has filled this administration with individuals who have not run a small business,” Graves said on a Romney campaign conference call.
Former Florida House speaker Allan Bense, also speaking on the Romney call, argued that the former Massachusetts governor’s remarks last week about the country needing fewer teachers and firefighters were also taken out of context.
“And that’s part of the game,” Bense said. “But to say that the private sector is fine, I just don’t understand how you can take that out of context.”
An earlier version of this story misidentified Rep. Sam Graves as a freshman representative. It has been corrected.