There is much to mock in the New York Times report on how President Obama’s obsession with his own press coverage has convinced him the media is not biased quite enough in his favor. But I come not to mock, but to offer some unsolicited advice to the president. The Times writes:
While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him….
Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.
That, to me, contains both the diagnosis and the cure. Obama’s campaign has been constructed almost entirely around petty issues and drummed-up controversies in an attempt to win each day or week’s news cycle without any substantive debate on many of these topics. We’ve seen this with the ridiculous “war on women” to the pro-Obama super PAC’s casual accusations of murder to the president’s refusal to disown Harry Reid’s debasing both the Senate and the presidential election with McCarthy-style rumormongering that apparently had the president’s blessing.
In other words, Obama’s “voracious” appetite for reporting he thinks to be utterly shallow has locked him into a behavioral pattern that mimics the mindset and attitude he swears he deplores. Though the Times doesn’t mean it as a compliment, the remark about Bush ignoring them is exactly that. Bush understood the media was not just biased against him, but militantly so, and conducted in a pack mentality that drained day-to-day reporting of any understanding of the larger picture.
So he read. A lot. Not the Times’s legendarily awful reporting, but hundreds of books instead. As Karl Rove recounted here, Bush was constantly reading–he read 95 books in 2006, apparently–and his reading list included a ton of non-fiction: history, politics, biography, etc.:
The reading competition reveals Mr. Bush’s focus on goals. It’s not about winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy. He reads instead of watching TV. He reads on Air Force One and to relax and because he’s curious. He reads about the tasks at hand, often picking volumes because of the relevance to his challenges.
It’s beneficial to pay attention to the news, obviously. But Obama needs to get his head out of the horse race and into something substantive that can give him a bit more perspective. It might elevate his campaign too.