A good 'View' for Obama

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010; 1:23 PM

Anyone who scoffed at the president's decision to hang with Whoopi and the gang was out to lunch.

That includes you, Rosie.

The appearance was good for him, good for "The View" and, incidentally, good for the audience.

Yes, the world was not panting to find out that the president of the United States doesn't know who Snooki is. And, as a Twitter enthusiast, I was personally crushed to learn that he knows nothing about his account other than that "some 20-year-old" is tweeting for him.

But amid the chatter about pop culture and Michelle and the kids, there was actually an enlightening discussion about race, Shirley Sherrod, Afghanistan and the administration's political difficulties. Obama was especially interesting when Barbara Walters said, "You do not describe yourself as a black president, but that's the way you're described. Your mother was white. Would it be helpful, or why don't you say, 'I'm not a black president, I'm biracial'?"

David Gregory or Bob Schieffer wouldn't have asked that question, and that's the value of appearing on a different kind of talk show.

This little flap about whether it was sufficiently dignified for a POTUS to appear on daytime television was like something out of a time warp. That debate ended when Bill Clinton played the sax for Arsenio back in 1992 and he and the candidates that year were interviewed not only by Larry King but by MTV. As president, Clinton boasted that King had "liberated" him "by giving me to the American people directly."

But nearly two decades later, with presidential candidates chatting up Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, with Obama already having done Leno and Letterman, the argument is silly. Walters, who made an early return from her heart-valve surgery to appear at the taping, knows how to handle presidents.

Sure, Obama wasn't exactly grilled. There should have been a question on immigration, and some of his answers (We were losing jobs when I took over) were well-rehearsed. But even Joy Behar, a fan of the president, asked what his "narrative" was -- this after declaring that the right wing and Fox News were "hijacking the narrative." (Is that illegal?) And Elisabeth Hasselbeck, as the resident conservative, asked pointed but respectful questions on, for instance, unemployment.

No one asked whether it was dignified for Obama to talk bracketology on ESPN or play hoops with CBS's Clark Kellogg. Whoopi and company acquitted themselves well.

Wiki leaking popularity

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been giving one interview after another and isn't winning many fans. At the Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan has a visceral reaction:

"With his bloodless, sallow face, his lank hair drained of all color, his languorous, very un-Australian limbs, and his aura of blinding pallor that appears to admit no nuance, Assange looks every inch the amoral, uber-nerd villain, icily detached from the real world of moral choices in which the rest of us saps live. Call him the Unaleaker, with apologies to the victims of Ted Kaczynski. . . .

"Watching Assange wallow in the attention that has followed his voluminous data dump, one is struck by his strut, his hubris, his palpable vainglory. 'I enjoy crushing bastards,' he crowed to Der Spiegel, one of the publications favored with the right to publish his dubiously acquired material. 'The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war,' he harrumphed. 'And they need to be stopped.'

"This last statement only partly answers a question that has been troubling America for some days: What does Assange want? He doesn't like war, it is clear, so war must be 'stopped.' But in his various pronouncements since the leaks were published, in his ramblings in response to questions from bona fide journalists, he has revealed no trace of humility, professed not even a sliver of doubt, accepted not one utterance that would challenge his own convictions and certitudes. The dream state of his own omniscience has remained entirely unimpaired."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is exercised that Assange's site names many Afghan informers, while the three newspapers that worked with him did not:

"Perhaps the various countries that host WikiLeaks' servers can provide these informers and their entire families with refugee status now that their lives are in jeopardy. We'd say something similar about the New York Times, Britain's Guardian and Germany's Der Spiegel, which coordinated publication of the documents with Mr. Assange. The Times has made a show of seeking to corroborate the information it published, and to delete information the paper believed was especially sensitive (including the names of Afghan informants). It went so far as to urge Mr. Assange not to publish certain documents.

"We don't believe in prior restraint, but it is worth asking whether the Times, the Guardian or Der Spiegel are really serving the public, much less allied security interests, in validating Mr. Assange's methods by flying in publishing formation with him."

Why did what was touted as the new Pentagon Papers basically evaporate in 48 hours? Slate's Jack Shafer has a theory:

"The speed with which the press and the politicians have normalized the material as 'nothing new' indicates that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange may have miscalculated in his desire to get the biggest media bang. He's been meditating aloud for some time on how to maximize publicity for his material, complaining that media organizations have routinely ignored WikiLeaks postings because nobody gets exclusives on the released material. None would do a document dive for a story if that meant competing with other news organizations. . . . But could Assange have milked the material to better effect? I think so. . . .

"There was too much material for the newspapers and magazines to swallow on such a short deadline. The publications felt that way, too. As [the Columbia Journalism Review] reports, they asked for and got a week extension on the original Assange embargo date. Perhaps he should have given the three publications -- which shared notes about the material but not copy -- another month. Lesson learned: Too much is sometimes worse than not enough.

"By inundating readers with Assange's trove, the three news organizations broke one of the sacred rules of journalism: If you have a big story -- especially one based on a leak like this one -- drip, drip, drip it out to your audience rather than showering them with it. The reader can absorb drips better than torrents. Leave the reader wanting more and then deliver the next day."

That's true. We have limited attention spans these days. Leading with 12 bullet points makes the leak itself, not the content, the major story, and that's largely how it was covered -- as a media controversy.

Non-journos on Journolist

Tucker Carlson apparently plans to report on the Journolist e-mails for the rest of 2010. In the latest Daily Caller installment, politicos such as Jared Bernstein, now Joe Biden's chief economic adviser, were found to be in the off-the-record group founded by blogger Ezra Klein:

"In May of 2009, Bernstein contacted Ezra Klein to pass a message along to list members.

" 'Calling all Journos,' Bernstein wrote in a message relayed by Klein. 'I thought we got too little love from progressive types re our tax changes targeted at businesses with overseas operations. We're maybe going for another bite at the apple this Monday,' he wrote. Bernstein invited members of the list to join him on a conference call on the issue a few days later.

"Not everyone was sold. . . .

"In the end, 14 journalists expressed interest in the conference call with Bernstein, including [Bloomberg's Ryan] Donmoyer and Washington Post reporter Alec MacGillis. The effort appeared to be wasted on Donmoyer, who in the coming weeks wrote a couple of stories for Bloomberg expressing skepticism about the idea.

"Bernstein's effort did appear to bear fruit elsewhere, however. 'I've heard that there's some disappointment in the administration that they haven't gotten the level of progressive love they feel they deserve for their ambitious proposals to curb abusive corporate tax loopholes,' wrote influential liberal blogger Matt Yglesias the next day. Yglesias went on to attack opponents of the plan, noting 'how absurd some of the abuses the administration is trying to curb are.' "

I don't think political types should have been on a Journo-list -- Klein, now with The Washington Post, says he tried to keep them off -- but given that both sides' spinners regularly talk to supportive bloggers, it's hard to see a conference call as some grand conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Salon's Alex Pareene mocks the Roger Simon column quoted here yesterday, which included some criticism of Journolist from NBC's political director:

"Poor Chuck Todd can't sleep, because the credibility of journalists was destroyed by Dave Weigel's joke about Rush Limbaugh. The credibility of journalism was actually destroyed by a long-term political campaign by the conservative movement to discredit the objective press, and these journalists are upset because the Journolist [BS] was used as yet another cudgel against the 'MSM' by the usual suspects.

"But for some reason Todd and Simon keep blaming the people being smeared and misrepresented for allowing the right-wing to smear and misrepresent them. Stop being the target of baseless conservative attacks, liberals, because you are making Serious Journalists look bad!

"One thing not mentioned at all in Simon's column about how earnest liberals killed journalism is the role of the parallel right-wing media that has largely supplanted the 'objective' press among regular conservatives. (If you want to understand this age of rage and partisanship, it might be helpful to take a look at the people, like Megyn Kelly and Glenn Beck, enraging conservative people all day, every day.) Although the right-wing media was the other half of Chuck Todd's actual complaint."

In search of Teflon

The L.A. Times dubs Obama the opposite of Reagan: the Velcro President:

"The president is on the hook to repair the Gulf Coast oil spill disaster, stabilize Afghanistan, help fix Greece's ailing economy and do right by Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official fired as a result of a misleading fragment of videotape," the Times writes. "What's not sticking to Obama is a legislative track record that his recent predecessors might envy. Political dividends from passage of a healthcare overhaul or a financial regulatory bill have been fleeting."

The paper says Obama is trying to acquire some Teflon by putting more focus on some Cabinet members. But "The View" isn't clamoring to interview Tim Geithner or Robert Gates.

After careful consideration, the Weekly Standard's Noemie Emery has concluded that Barack Obama is no Roosevelt or Reagan:

"Only a year ago, to hear the press tell it, Obama was that rare bird, a transformational figure, the new FDR or the left's Ronald Reagan. He was no mere presider -- like the Bushes or Clinton -- but a deliverer of major-league change. The alignments and mores of the past 30 years had been shattered; all that remained was to pick up the pieces and fashion them into a whole new mosaic that would run things for decades. Few doubted that this would be done. . . .

"Reagan and Roosevelt changed the country's laws and its politics, moving them both in one common direction. But while Obama is moving the law to the left, those laws are moving the politics hard in the other direction. Since Obama became president, everything that he wants has become more unpopular: more intrusive and much bigger government, more taxing and spending, more state control. . . .

"Obama's health care reform may live, it may die, or it may limp along in tatters, but it has already changed history: The prospect of an enduring center-left governing coalition, which a year ago seemed a distinct possibility, is now gone."

Just like Karl Rove's center-right version that preceded it.

You wouldn't expect the Standard to be enthused, but the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn can't understand why progressives are so bummed about O's tenure:

"This seems totally nuts, purely on the merits. Obama and the Democrats passed a major stimulus that cut taxes for the middle class and invested heavily in public works. They saved the auto industry, created a new regulatory framework for the financial industry, and enacted comprehensive health care reform. Compromises watered down each of these initiatives, to say nothing of the ideas (climate change!) that aren't going to pass. And still this was the most productive liberal presidency in a generation or maybe two.

"But liberal ambivalence isn't just foolish substantively. It's also foolish strategically.

"The fact is that voting for these measures, particularly health care and (in the House) climate change, was tough for many members of Congress. Liberals consider the Affordable Care Act a watered-down version of a watered-down of something resembling a true universal coverage system. But in Tennessee, Idaho, and a bunch of places in between, it's a government takeover of health care."

That may be, but the WP reports on a survey that may validate what the administration has argued all along:

"Opposition to the landmark health care overhaul declined over the past month, to 35 percent from 41 percent, according to the latest results of a tracking poll, reported Thursday.

"Fifty percent of the public held a favorable view of the law, up slightly from 48 percent a month ago, while 14 percent expressed no opinion about the measure, according to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation."

Of course, polls are blurry snapshots, but I wonder if that trend continues, once some actual benefits kick in.

Ready for their close-up

This week's link bait: The Hill's 50 most beautiful people. But we really value them for their legislative acumen.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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