President Obama did tonight what Newt Gingrich did last night. That is, score some cheap points with the American public by chiding the media. Early in his address, he said the following:
This past week, reporters have been asking: ‘What will this speech mean for the president? What will it mean for Congress? How will it affect their polls, and the next election?’
In the next breath, the president changed his tone of voice just slightly as he talked about how the American people don’t care about these things.
So right there — at the very outset of the address — is a broadside against the press’s reputation for shallowness, for engaging in stale and formulaic horse-race journalism instead of digging into the deeper issues that affect people. Somewhere New York University Professor Jay Rosen is smiling.
Yet a look at the archival record reveals that the president is indulging in a bit of gamesmanship with the same skill as any Beltway journalist. Let’s just pull up, say, Tuesday’s White House press briefing and see how much horse racing is going down.
First jobs-related question to Press Secretary Jay Carney:
Speaker Boehner and Representative Cantor, they issued a letter, which I’m sure you saw, to President Obama in which they appear to try to zero in on areas of common interest, including infrastructure, and said that there should not be an all-or-nothing solution to creating jobs. Do you guys see this as an opening, important opening, or are you dubious, given the partisanship of the recent days?
Verdict: Serious question about inter-branch negotiations. Nice going, media!
Second jobs-related question to Press Secretary Jay Carney:
Has the White House been consulting at all with Republican leaders in Congress ahead of the speech on some of these areas of potential bipartisan agreement, to build support to speed this thing along? Or are they going to hear about any new ideas along with the rest of the country?
Verdict: Substance city!
Third jobs-related question to Press Secretary Jay Carney:
Jay, the turbulence in markets is reflecting growing concern about the European crisis. What advice is the president giving to his European counterparts about this? And is this going to be a part of his speech, given that this turmoil could very well affect the U.S. economy in a very big way?
Verdict: Euro-zone stuff, huh? Still waiting for some vacuousness.
Fourth jobs-related question to Press Secretary Jay Carney:
Just shifting topics. The decision to give the speech to a joint session of Congress — one of the reasons you said the president wanted to do that is because Congress would need to pass at least some of these initiatives; some may be by executive action. Given, though, that the views on how you spur growth at the moment are just so different — the Republicans criticize what they see as a Keynesian approach and want permanent overhauls of the tax code and things like that, and a new look at regulations — can you talk a little bit more about why the president wants to do this when the philosophical difference couldn’t be greater?
Verdict: Totally legit and filled with thought and foresight.
Another jobs-related question to Press Secretary Jay Carney:
The president has talked about — I know there’s a lot in the speech that we don’t know about, but it does seem like infrastructure spending is going to be part of it; he’s mentioned it several times, including yesterday. There obviously were hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure spending in the stimulus bill, and while that bill may have stemmed the bleeding, it obviously did not prompt the kind of economic recovery that the president had hoped. Why would a new round of infrastructure spending have a different effect?
Verdict: The streak continues with a macroeconomics query.
Now, the Erik Wemple Blog could go on like this, cutting and pasting questions from the White House press corps till the fourth quarter of the Saints-Packers tilt. But, you know — it’s getting really boring. These reporters are asking serious questions about the jobs plan and Carney is giving serious answers.
So let’s just skip down and see if I can catch some ponies....Oh, here’s one about polling and President Obama’s handling of the economy:
There’s a new ABC News poll/Washington Post poll out today that shows a record high of the American people disapproving of the president’s handling of the economy, of the deficit, of job creation. One in three Americans say they’re worse off now than when President Obama — than before President Obama took office. What’s the president’s message to these people?
And, Jay, just finally, 72 percent of Americans believe that the economy hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. What would you say to those people?
Verdict: Classic who’s up, who’s down journalism.
Ah, but THIS:
Does the president have a view on whether a temporary tax holiday for the repatriation of foreign corporate profits would be stimulative to the economy?
Verdict: MIT dissertation.
Wrapup: The media asks the White House its share of lame questions, along with lots of excellent ones. When it comes to that mix, the Sept. 6 briefing is like many, many others.
It just so happens that the White House is pushing hard on this notion that the national press corps is obsessed with sideshows while the president is focused on the welfare of the American people. That’s good politics, and, sure, there are enough insider-Washington questions on the public record that the White House, if challenged, can say, ‘Look at this, this, and this.’ Yet the charge is blurred by slant and obfuscation. Whereas the president said that reporters are asking about polls and the like, he just as easily could have said that reporters are asking probing questions about the content and feasibility of the jobs plan.