President Obama is well known for his disdain for the media. His administration has gone after Fox News, undertaken unprecedented snooping on journalists and regularly expresses contempt for their efforts. Even when traveling overseas he can’t seem to get over it.
During an Africa trip that has generally gone well (aside from the real question as to what he is doing there in the first place given the bevy of domestic and foreign crises), Obama strangely decides time and time again to insult U.S. media. As the Associated Press reported, some of this was harmless needling (“I might take some questions, except earlier in the press conference you guys asked 4-in-1 questions”), but this humor was particularly ill-conceived in Senegal:
At his earlier stop in Senegal, Obama apologized to host President Macky Sall on behalf [of] the American media.
“Sometimes my press — I notice yours just ask one question,” Obama said. “We try to fit in three or four or five questions in there.”
Minutes before that comment, Obama had praised democratic progress in Senegal, specifically mentioning “a strong press” as part of that movement. However, the first Senegalese reporter to be called on lobbed a softball, simply asking Sall to describe the visit and any new prospects it posed for Africa.
It isn’t “his” media and it isn’t his place to apologize for it.
Normally, perhaps, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But in that he was visiting three African countries whose press is judged by Freedom House to be “partially free,” I think it is not just bad form but harmful for his administration’s support for democracy. Of course I would not expect the president to use his trip as an occasion to criticize his hosts directly. But I would expect that while he, himself, is under scrutiny for his administration’s treatment of the press (the AP phone records and Fox News’s James Rosen), he would not make light of such matters. He missed a chance to not say something, but four years’ experience with him in power has led me to believe the president is too thin-skinned when it comes to dissent and being held accountable and too quick to assume a bit of a royal air. At home, he can mix it up with reporters in the great political game, but once he’s abroad, more decorum and circumspection is called for.
One can argue this is just run-of-the-mill condescension by Obama. It nevertheless is noteworthy what he chooses to joke about, and symptomatic of the lack of respect he has for the fourth estate.