The White House is trying to have its cake and eat it, too.
In Minnesota on Thursday and Friday, the administration staged photo ops of President Obama at a hamburger joint, an ice cream parlor, and a grocery store. Then, in two speeches on the economy and at a fundraiser, he complained that what we in the White House press corps should have been covering was the serious stuff he had to say on jobs, the economy, and other substantive issues (which we did, of course).
Just because you're the leader of the free world doesn't mean you get to have it both ways.
Here's what's really happening here: In blaming the media, Obama has dusted off the same tired tactic that many a struggling president has resorted to when things aren't going well. When presidents start complaining about their press coverage, saying reporters are to blame for low poll numbers or negative articles, it's the clearest sign of a presidency in trouble. It's as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
Well, here's a question, Mr. President: If what you really want is more coverage of the serious stuff, then why employ a small army of staffers to scurry around for days setting up superficial photo ops for us?
The burger joint photo op was set up so the president could be seen with Rebekah Erler, a 36-year-old mother of two preschoolers. In March, Erler wrote a letter to him explaining her family's financial struggles. The White House refused to identify Erler until the lunch, and only let reporters in briefly to take photos and video during the actual event. They then complained that those same shut-out reporters didn't say enough about the president's conversation with her or the broader, related issues he's trying to address. (New press secretary Josh Earnest, by the way, denied that the White House was trying to "stage manage" the news.)
"You don't see that on TV sometimes," the president later said. "It's not what the press and pundits talk about. But I'm here to tell you I'm listening."
The president wasn't finished. At a fundraiser Thursday night, Obama blamed the media for pushing what he calls "phony scandals." It's bad enough that Republicans are blocking him at every turn, he said (which they absolutely are), but now the media is essentially in cahoots with the GOP because we don't report on anything (he claims) other than the VA, IRS, ObamaCare, Benghazi, and on and on.
Gosh, is this the same "liberal media" that right-wingers say is in Obama's pocket? That covers anything except for the VA, IRS, ObamaCare, and Benghazi?
When the media is attacked by both sides, by both Obama supporters and opponents, it's a reasonable sign that the media is doing a pretty good job of being fair.
But Obama's frustration is also rooted in some truths. The media does indeed have a short-term focus, is indeed attracted to drama and scandal and wrongdoing. But what he doesn't seem to understand is that these shortcomings cut both ways. I don't recall the president or other Democrats complaining about media coverage of scandal-stained Republicans like Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, former Nevada Sen. John Ensign, or former South Carolina Gov. (now Congressman) Mark Sanford. Perhaps we should have done as Obama suggests and spent more time reporting on all the good things (whatever those were) that these guys were doing for their constituents?
Obama's latest broadsides on the media are as unjustified as they are foolish. The American people are too smart to blame reporters for Obama's troubles. All this "attack the press" strategy does is reveal Obama for what he really is today: a flailing president struggling to accomplish something.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- California's epic drought
Subscribe to the Week