The Washington Post

Obama’s new boogeyman: The press corps

President Obama holds his ice cream cone during a visit to Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Minn., Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

MINNEAPOLIS – Move over, Republicans. President Obama has a new boogeyman: The media.

During his two-day tour here, the president has let out his frustrations on the fourth estate for failing, in his view, to cover serious issues facing the American people and instead focusing on the frivolous.

“If you watch the news, you’d think, ‘Okay, Washington is a mess and the basic attitude is that everybody’s crazy,” Obama told a crowd of 3,500 here at the Lake Harriet Band Shell.

Noting that he met with a local resident to discuss her difficulties paying her bills, Obama said: “You don’t see that on TV sometimes. It’s not what the press and pundits talk about. But I’m here to tell you I’m listening.”

White House aides have said Obama doesn't watch TV news but that he does read major newspapers. He has made fun of bloggers before.

Obama’s disdain for the political press is well known, but he seems to be emphasizing it as part of a new White House push to convince the public that the president is focused on solving problems such as the economy and the environment, while his Republican rivals are focused foremost on scoring political points by blocking him at every turn.

“My message to Republicans is, ‘Join us. Get on board. If you’re mad me helping people on my own why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together. I’m happy to share the credit,’” Obama said.

At night earlier, during a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama denounced the press and the GOP for driving debates over “phony scandals.”

“We talk about Benghazi, and we talk about polls, and we talk about the tea party, and we talk about the latest controversy that Washington has decided is important,” he said.

The us-against-them narrative of Obama’s latest messaging is aimed at making him more accessible at a time when his approval ratings are near all-time lows for his tenure. Ironically, however, Obama has courted the media over two days here with a series of photo-op events, including stops at a hamburger joint, a boutique grocery and an ice cream shop.

He has played to the cameras, turning to reporters in the ice cream parlor to say: "Press, you guys want some? On me. No? Is that unethical? I'm trying to soften you up."

At the grocery, Obama turned to the cameras to explain that he carries only two things in his wallet—cash and his driver’s license, which he noted expires in 2016. He said the photo was dated but it was a good shot of him: “I was a little younger then.”

The president’s press office knows such moments, which some might suggest are frivolous or even manufactured, are golden for television networks and local reporters who are eager to show Obama interacting with ordinary people. The traveling White House press corps, having seen such moments before, usually hopes Obama will make more serious news by remarking on, say, Iraq or the latest Supreme Court ruling. Alas, the president made no such comments during his trip here.

But at the fundraiser, he did say: “On Monday we had what we called a White House Working Families Summit. And we just talked about bread-and-butter issues that everybody talks about around the kitchen table but, unfortunately, don’t make it on the nightly news a lot.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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