CNN’s John King summed up the situation pretty succinctly just before 11 a.m. “He’s not just done us. He’s done other people as well.” The “he” in question was the President of the United States, and the people he was doing were the hosts of five Sunday shows, on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and Univision. The full market blitz by the White House was a crafty move, even if it led to much repetition, because the very fact of him doing so much became a news story, further amplifying his message. Running the Sunday table also gives Obama a domestic anchor at the start of a week when he will be traveling to New York and Pittsburgh to meet with foreign leaders, and will therefore be unable to engage much in the domestic political squabble.
Fox News, with whom the White House is none too happy, was the only major outlet to get stiffed by Obama. Sunday show host Chris Wallace embraced the show of disrespect. “Today, the president is talking and talking. But we have a ‘FOX News Sunday’ exclusive, the only place you won’t see Barack Obama making yet another pitch for health care.” That’s a whole new standard for newsmaking: Boasting about the information you cannot get. This is a bit like the New York Times leading with an “exclusive” story about how it has nothing new to report about something. But Fox does deserve some credit for the conceit. It is not a network lacking in boldness.
So what became of all the “doing” that Obama was doing to the other networks? Here are some quick summaries of Obama’s ABC, CNN, CBS, NBC and Univision appearances:
On ABC, Obama went after the media for its role in amplifying his more extreme critics: “And — and sometimes I think that, frankly, the media encourages some of the outliers in behavior, because, let’s face it, the easiest way to get on television right now is to be really rude.” He declined to comment on whether or not to ACORN, a nonprofit that was recently caught giving advice to an imposter pimp and prostitute, should be funded: “You know, it’s — frankly, it’s not really something I’ve followed closely. I didn’t even know that ACORN was getting a whole lot of federal money.” On Afghanistan, Obama called himself a skeptic and said the strategy had still not been worked out. “You don’t make decisions about resources before you have the strategy ready.” Obama also rejected the notion that a penalty for individuals who do not get health insurance, which the health reform plans contain, amounts to a tax increase.
On CNN, Obama said that the new tax on so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans was also not a tax on the middle class, even though some members of the middle class could be affected. Asked if Hamid Karzai had “stolen” the elections in Afghanistan, as is increasingly evident, Obama said he did not know. “How much fraud took place and whether that had a substantial effect on the results of the election, I think that is something that we’re going to have to wait and see in the next few weeks,” he said. Obama defended the ongoing investigation of CIA officials who may have violated interrogation guidance during the Bush Administration: “I don’t want to start getting into the business of squelching, you know, investigations that are being conducted.” As for all the anger directed at him, Obama said, “You know, yelling at politicians is as American as apple pie.” Then he did some media bashing, after prefacing his comments by saying he was not media bashing. “You know, and the other thing I’ve got to say is, is that I think it’s important for the media — you know, not to do any media-bashing here — to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or FOX or any of the other stations — MSNBC — is to just say something rude and outrageous.”
On CBS, Obama again adopted the Mr. Smith comes to Washington pose, talking tough about insurance companies even as he pushes a plan that will, by most estimates, be a boon for insurance companies. “Look, bringing about change in this town is always hard. When you’ve got special interests that are making billions of dollars, absolutely, they’re going to want to keep as much of the profits that they’re making as possible.” Asked about the tone of the debate, Obama blamed the media again: “They can’t get enough of conflict. It’s catnip to the media right now. And so, the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody.” Then Obama called Russia paranoid about missile defense. “Russia had always been paranoid about this. But George Bush was right. This wasn’t a threat to them. And this new program will not be a threat to them.”
On NBC, Obama was asked who he is saying no to in the health care debate. And he didn’t really have an answer. “The people who are most involved in the health care system know that it’s gotta be reformed,” he said. Asked about race and the tone of the debate, Obama repeated himself, again. “I think that— the media loves to have a conversation about race. I mean, the— this is— is catnip to— to— the media because it is a running thread in American history that’s very powerful. And it invokes some very strong emotions.” The president continued to voice discomfort with the situation in Afghanistan. “I don’t have a deadline for withdrawal. But I’m certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.” Obama was more optimistic when he was asked about the White Sox, his favorite baseball team, which is not doing so well. “Until they are eliminated, I will make no predictions.”
On Univision, Obama was asked about his pledge to ban illegal immigrants from health care reform benefits. According to the translated transcript of the exchange, Obama said, “En estos momentos el plan que hemos presentado y quiero ser absolutamente claro: No debe de incluir trabajadores indocumentados.” (Illegal workers won’t get benefits.) He added that this group could continue to buy coverage on the private market, but not through the exchanges, and not with subsidies. When asked about the problem of the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. without health insurance, Obama said he wanted to tackle the issue of illegal immigration separately. “Bueno, a mi me gustaría mucho resolver nuestro problema de inmigración y no puedo resolver todos los problemas de golpe. . . No estoy hablando de los indocumentados ahora.” (He wants to solve the problem of illegal immigration, but can’t do everything at once. And he is not talking about illegal immigrants now.)