Media Abet Obama’s Aloofness on Tough Issues
Over the past five months, the Republican presidential candidates participated in 13 debates where they fielded dozens of penetrating questions on every major issue facing the nation, and some not so major.
The nationally televised and/or Internet-streamed forums each drew an average of 5 million to 6 million viewers, along with breathless wall-to-wall coverage, commentary and criticism from the news media, radio and TV talk shows, Internet blogs and partisan websites.
Indeed, the GOP hopefuls have been thoroughly queried on a laundry list of issues ranging from immigration problems to the faltering economy, Iran’s nuclear program to trade deficits with China, the intricacies of climate change to strategies to combat terrorism, exploding government regulations to skyrocketing public debt, plus some uncomfortable questions about their pasts and their personal lives.
Yet, during all that time, the man they hope to defeat next November has rarely been asked by news reporters about many of these issues. Since August, President Obama has held only one formal White House news conference. That came on Oct. 6, nearly three months ago. It lasted 74 minutes, shorter than any single Republican debate, and the president was asked 17 questions, most of them softballs on the economy and his latest legislative proposals to create jobs.
No questions on immigration, no questions on Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan or Israel or North Korea — global trouble spots the GOP candidates have been queried about repeatedly. Moreover, he was not asked about what spending cuts he would make to reduce the deficit, nothing about Medicare and Social Security reform or his health care law, all familiar questions for the Republicans seeking his job.
Obama’s ability to avoid tough questions, skate above the fray and look presidential while his potential successors appear to be futilely flailing is not by accident. It is by White House design, abetted by a press corps that seems content with being shut out by the president and being spoon-fed the message of the day, rather than clamoring for more chances to ask him questions during this critical time.
Just over the last couple of weeks, several major world events cried out for presidential comment, but little was forthcoming other than a few statements, some of which were attributed not to the president but to administration officials, named and unnamed. Among these events were:
- The Russian elections. It was left to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to publicly question whether they were fraudulent. And while she was clearly speaking for the president, it was Clinton, not Obama, who drew fire from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who accused her of encouraging protesters. So as it appears in the news media, Russia is Clinton’s problem, not Obama’s.
- Iran’s recent threat to block oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports. No word, so far, from the vacationing president. However, an unnamed administration official did accuse Iran of “saber-rattling.”
- The rash of bombings in Iraq, in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal there, has not produced a statement from Obama, nor have reporters been able to ask him if he now feels the full draw-down might have been a bit premature. No chance, either, to question the president on recent unrest in Syria.
- The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and what it might mean for U.S. relations with that troubled country has not drawn presidential comment. Clinton, speaking for the administration, said, “We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea.” And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. has “no new concerns” about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
In sum, the news we get from the White House is the news that administration press handlers want to give us, much of which provides the president with comfortable distance from foreign policy hot spots. From Hawaii this week, we get nice reports about presidential golf and snorkeling, the release of green sea turtles by the First Family, a visit with U.S. Marines and a baby putting her fingers in the president’s mouth.
No wonder the GOP candidates look so bad. It’s time for reporters to start smoking the president out and call for him, not his surrogates, to answer questions on a regular basis.