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The president's anger management

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; 9:53 AM

President Obama finally got mad -- and it sounds like he's mad at the media.

Before the president appeared on Tuesday's "Today" show, administration officials were increasingly gnashing their teeth about all the punditry that blamed the boss for excessive passivity. One top White House aide told me this was "psychobabble."

This official said that although they may have bobbled the communications strategy early on, Obama and his team were all over the BP oil spill from the start. But critics failed to understand that the government didn't have the kind of robotic equipment that an oil company does. And all the carping about Obama's lack of outrage, in this official's view, means the press has focused mainly on the politics, on the old Washington game of picking winners and losers.

But with Matt Lauer, it sounded like the president was acutely aware of the criticism. He said that when his folks asked critics for specific recommendations, "you're met with silence." He said he would "love to vent," "love to just shout and holler," but has to do his job.

And when Lauer wondered whether it was time to stop acting "cool, calm and collected" and offered the language about butt-kicking, Obama took that verbiage and ran with it: "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."

There was more: "This is not theater. . . . I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows."

And the president said "the media's run with" the idea that he was late to the game. "I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf."

On that point, he is wrong. Obama visited Louisiana on Sunday, May 2. The oil spill was a prime topic on the Sunday shows that day, and on the network newscasts and cable chatfests the next day -- though it was eclipsed for a time by the arrest in the Times Square bombing case.

Still, this sounds like a new tack for a president who told Larry King he was furious but didn't sound that way. He now wants to kick some BP butt, and maybe some media butt as well.

Says St. Petersburg Times television critic Eric Deggans: "You got the sense, watching the Lauer interview, that Obama was angrier over the way people have criticized his reactions than anything else. So angry, in fact, that he seems to have allowed himself to become the first president to use the word 'ass' in a formal interview setting."

Another Black Conservative is unimpressed: "Oh brother! This little sound bite was designed to calm the grumbling from lefties like Maureen Dowd, Bill Maher and Spike Lee. It won't calm real people from fuming over the oil spill."

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum examines the Washington Post/ABC poll I mentioned yesterday and finds a "purely political" aspect:


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