Politics & Policy

Obama Blames the Media for Failure of His ISIS Strategy

President Obama in the White House press room, December 18, 2015. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)
It’s always the messenger’s fault.

When President Obama sat down with Steve Inskeep from NPR shortly before jetting off to Hawaii for his annual year-end luau, he gave both supporters and critics a lot to chew on

heading into a new year in regards to everything from free speech on campus to the Republican primary field.

But the main focus was on his continuing strategy, or rather, lack thereof, for combating domestic terror attacks. He took the occasion to once again blame the messengers in the media instead of the faulty strategy coming from his administration.

When asked what the public might be missing about his strategy, given that a majority of them disapprove of it, Obama replied simply that news coverage hasn’t been very fair to him:

Well, I think what’s fair is that post-Paris you had a saturation of news about the horrible attack there. And ISIL combines viciousness with very savvy media operations. And as a consequence, if you’ve been watching television for the last month, all you have been seeing, all you have been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you.

Obama then went on to make a familiar claim: His biggest fault in the war against Islamic jihadists is that he simply hasn’t done a good enough job of selling his strategy. “We haven’t on a regular basis, I think, described all the work that we’ve been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL.”

This comes on the heels of a flap this past weekend over a report (in a paragraph that was subsequently deleted without explanation) in the New York Times that Obama claimed he just hadn’t watched enough cable news in the wake of the San Bernardino jihadist attacks to be able to understand the anxiety of the country over the possibility of more such attacks.

RELATED: After Paris, Obama Refuses to Lead

Blaming such anxiety on faulty messaging and over-saturation of terror coverage by networks might be a more plausible assessment if there hadn’t been an actual pattern of recent attacks and attempts both at home and abroad, even as the president has written ISIS off as the junior-varsity team and has focused more on the fate of the polar bear. The Islamic State and its ideological affiliates are trying, and sometimes succeeding, to come get us, and Americans have noticed.

They have come to both Fort Hood and Garland in Texas. They have come to Chattanooga . They have come to Boston, and, of course, to San Bernardino. Federal authorities in recent months have arrested as many as ten men in Minneapolis alone on charges of supporting a foreign terror organization.

Attacks have come to cafés in Sydney and to theaters in Paris. They have come to the Canadian Parliament and aboard European trains.

#share#In his NPR interview, Obama said that while these attacks and arrests are “legitimate news stories,” the intense news coverage isn’t a result of ISIS’s being a growing threat, but is the result of networks that are simply “pursuing ratings.”

“I think that, you know, it’s up to the media to make a determination about how they want to cover things,” he said.

Obama apparently believes the realm of propaganda and media are all that really matter.

His plan to counteract that coverage, as Politico reported, is to “add more theater” but make few policy adjustments in the wake of recent attacks. He apparently believes the realm of propaganda and media are all that really matter, and thinks that if his administration controls the message, then they can contain the problem and can hold the barbarians off just long enough for him to escape his second term mostly unscathed, despite having the lowest approval ratings of his presidency on his handling of terrorism.

“There will be more events like Obama’s visits to the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center this week,” Politico reported, “meetings that would likely be happening anyway, but that will be deliberately pushed into public view, with the president making sure to speak more passionately himself.”

RELATED: ’Playing Into the Hands of Isis’?: American Elites Take a Perverse View of What ISIS Is Really After

If blaming weak messaging rather than weak policy sounds like a familiar strategy from this president, it’s because it is. It’s the fall-back position the administration had in selling its unpopular health-care law to the public. Back in November 2014, Obama defended his floundering health-care law in an interview with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation this way:

I think there are times, there’s no doubt about it, where I think we have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we’re trying to do and why this is the right direction. So there is a failure of politics that we have to improve on.

It’s never that the policy or legislation is faulty; it’s just that he hasn’t done enough to sell how good it is. We as a country somehow just don’t understand the true nature of the threat of domestic terrorism because he hasn’t explained all that he’s doing to prevent it.

RELATED: Obama Trades Real Security for Spin to Secure His Legacy

This explanation might be somewhat more feasible if Obama’s campaign, aided by an overzealous media, hadn’t portrayed him as the greatest communicator of our time back in 2008.

As dramatic as our network and cable media can be, the idea that the threat of terrorism is growing is not an illusion created by news stories about scary men standing in the desert in black masks; it’s fueled by seeing images of a mini van shot to pieces on the streets of our suburbs.

#related#The reason the public is concerned is because we see ISIS coming to civilian metropolitan areas, and we see a dangerously disconnected president — one who golfs and fills out NCAA brackets after beheading videos go viral, or admits he pays more attention to ESPN in the mornings than to news. And it was announced today that he would be appearing with Jerry Seinfeld in the upcoming episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Barack Obama seems to think he’s like a student who’s failed to show his teacher the work on his algebra homework. But Americans aren’t interested in awarding him partial credit for trying; they want him to go back to the blackboard and figure out some solutions.

The president is correct that ISIS’s strategy has evolved. But he is dangerously mistaken by refusing to admit that his has not. 


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