We are past, for the moment, the White House “war” on Fox, such as it was. (Obama did an interview with Fox News’ Major Garrett a few weeks back, and General Petraeus is on Fox News Sunday today, with close Obama ally Dick Durbin.) Summer is gone too, and with it the “wee weed up” “silly season” of political coverage that Obama and his aides regularly decried. But President Obama’s disdain for certain features of the national media remains alive and well. In a little noticed aside at the end of Thursday’s jobs summit, Obama effectively painted the press as an obstacle to not just the much-needed economic recovery, but to America recovering its 20th Century position as an economic powerhouse.
Obama was responding to a comment from Farooq Kathwari, the CEO of furniture maker Ethan Allen. Kathwari had observed that the layoffs at his company that followed the economic collapse have actually provided an opportunity for the company to reinvent itself as something better. Obama agreed with Kathwari’s point:
If we can recapture that sense that we’re in this thing together and that we are willing to work hard, that America is not great because it’s owed to us, but we’ve been great because previous generations have put in the hard work to get us there, then I’m confident that we’re going to get through this tough time and the 21st century is going to be as good for us as the 20th was.
But then Obama made a turn, and went after the press, specifically the group of network correspondents who had interviewed Obama on his trip to Beijing. The full passage follows after the jump.
But it’s not going to come easily and it is going to require a level of cooperation and a willingness to work strategically together that we have not seen over the last several years. And frankly, this town and the way the political dialogue is structured right now is not conducive to what we need to do to be globally competitive. And all of you are leaders in your communities — in the business sector and the labor sector, in academia, we even have a few pundits here — it is important to understand what’s at stake and that we can’t keep on playing games.
I mentioned that I was in Asia on this trip thinking about the economy, when I sat down for a round of interviews. Not one of them asked me about Asia. Not one of them asked me about the economy. I was asked several times about had I read Sarah Palin’s book. (Laughter.) True. But it’s an indication of how our political debate doesn’t match up with what we need to do and where we need to go.
Pretty pointed stuff, and I have little doubt that the president was actually irked by this at the time. [He also remembers the content of the interviews inaccurately. See update below.] Through both the campaign and his presidency, Obama has made little secret of his disdain for some of the horse-race, tabloid elements of the press corps–though his political and communications staff are not above sometimes exploiting those same tendencies for their own benefit. Obama meets regularly off-the-record and on-the-record meals with columnists who his advisers see as more intellectually substantive (or politically influential). But he has not done the same with beat reporters, whom, as he suggested Thursday, sometimes do a disservice to the country with the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasing. (In fairness, one man’s ambulances–Town Hall shoutfests! Sarah Palin Facebook posts! etc.–are another man’s news, and columnists also chase them.)
On the aforementioned Asia trip, Obama only took two questions from the U.S. print press corps over the course of seven days, one in a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and one with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak. Obama did sit down interviews in Beijing with CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News. ABC News got an interview with Obama shortly before he departed for Asia.
UPDATE: Over Twitter, reader MayBeeTweet points out that Obama did not accurately characterize his interviews in Asia. Fox News’ Garrett asked both about the jobs bill Obama has proposed and the South Korean trade agreement. NBC’s Chuck Todd asked about the jobs summit and Chinese relations on human rights.