As Alana noted, President Obama has again opened himself up to the claim that he “backed down” from a fight with Republicans–a common theme of the president’s critics on the left. But by trying to schedule a major speech that would conflict with the scheduled Republican debate, Obama may have more to worry about from the press corps than accusations he isn’t tough enough.
At the Washington Post, James Downie reviews the minor kerfuffle blow by blow, and can’t quite believe what he’s seeing:
- If the White House has spent months working to appear above the partisan fray – as they insist they have – then pulling a blatantly partisan stunt like this torpedoes all of that PR work.
- Pretending the timing was a coincidence has backfired with the press and pundits. Did the White House really think, when it sent Jay Carney to his press briefing, that people would swallow his line that the timing was “coincidental”?
- In the aftermath of the announcement, the narrative of the afternoon on cable news ran in part that the White House had not cleared the date with the speaker, with some outlets suggesting that Boehner’s office had only been given 15 minutes notice. If true, the White House was disrespectful and should rightly be admonished.
Obama was “blatantly partisan” and “disrespectful”–harsh language coming from the left. But you can understand why Downie is so upset when you look at the second bullet point. There once was a time the president could send his press secretary out to claim the president has “saved or created” this or that number of jobs–a patently ridiculous notion and deeply insulting to the intelligence of the public–and the press would repeat it. More often than not, the media would push the White House’s outrageous accounts of events without casting the shadow of doubt upon them.
As the 2012 election really gets going, Obama is no doubt expecting to be carried as close to the finish line as possible by the media. You can’t really blame him after watching the 2008 election. But Downie is signaling Obama has got to give them something to work with. Reporters are, after all, only human. They have pride, and they resent being insulted on national TV.
Downie also writes the strategy was foolish from the beginning; the scheduling of the speech would have been the story, not the speech, and fewer viewers would have actually tuned in.
If the president was wondering what the media’s limit was, he just found it.