The Campaign Spot

Book: ‘Many Times, the President Seemed to Be Giving Up on the Public.’

There have probably been times in the past three and a half years that you have felt ready to “give up” on President Obama. But fair is fair, and it appears President Obama has felt the desire to give up on you, too.

From Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas, page 156–157.

Later in the first term, there were points where the American public seemed to be giving up on Barack Obama. But the relationship went both ways, and there were many times the president seemed to be giving up on the public, too, convinced Americans would never understand his point of view . . .

. . . Being in the White House seemed to intensify one of his best traits, his natural seriousness, along with one of his worst, his conviction that he was more serious than anyone else. There was a gap between the way Obama consumed information — in orderly, high-level briefings — and the way nearly everyone else in the country did, and it could often turn him derisive.

Of course, at times, Obama has seemed quite incorrect in his assessment of how other Americans consume information. Thinking back roughly one year ago, when the president unveiled his long-form birth certificate to quell ridiculous rumors that he contended were dominating the news:

Credit Jake Tapper for not accepting the president’s convenient narrative that the media’s irresponsibility forced him to hold a press conference unveiling his birth certificate. “The president said he was prompted to act ‘two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.’ But the president was wrong. According to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, that week the dominant news story was without question the economy. The ridiculous claims about the president’s birth certificate actually was the No. 4 story for the week — receiving about one tenth of the coverage devoted to stories about the economy.”

So why would President Obama have the erroneous view that the media was obsessed with his birth certificate? What could he be watching that would give him such a skewed perspective that his birth certificate was the “dominant news story”?

Aside from the one-man birther extravaganza that was Donald Trump, who pushed the birther story hardest? According to data from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism reviewed by the Poynter Institute’s Julie Moos, MSNBC had the most coverage, far ahead of Fox or CNN. “While MSNBC’s coverage may have been devoted to questioning or debunking the president’s citizenship issues, that network spent the most time discussing it,” said Moos.

According to the data, MSNBC devoted ten percent of its airtime last week to President Obama, and fully 92 percent of that was “airtime coded ‘citizenship and religion rumors’ and ‘birther’ coverage.” By comparison, CNN and Fox devoted just five percent of their airtime to the president. Of that, PEJ says CNN’s coverage of the president was 100 percent devoted to “citizenship and religion rumors,” while Fox’s coverage was only eight percent.

To his credit, the president was right; if as this anecdote suggests, he watches MSNBC to the point where he believes its coverage represents the news media as a whole, he does indeed consume information in a way few other Americans do.


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