David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun describes tough-show Obama’s thinning skin in his article:
‘Today’ interview: Obama shows press contempt.
A year ago, I wrote about President Obama being thin-skinned about criticism from the media and having a not so barely suppressed contempt for the press.
And I caught holy heck from some readers and far too many of my colleagues who were still deep in a post-election swoon with this man they kept referring to as so “elegant and cool.” Read that column titled “Time for Press to quit being used by Obama” here. It is the first of several columns and posts that I wrote on that theme.
Well, the president took thin skinned to a new level Tuesday morning in his interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show. I do not know what the president and his advisers were trying to accomplish with this conversation that took place in Michigan before Obama spoke to a high school graduation in Kalamazoo. But I have never seen Obama look and sound more petty, petulant and tinny.
Obama’s big problem isn’t that he can’t act decisively, can’t emote on cue for the cameras, trusts experts too much or that he defers excessively to CEOs. His problem — and it is starting to look like a genuine fatal flaw — is that he can’t take criticism, particularly from the press, which he seems to have an unnatural and Nixon-like hostility toward. And this interview with Lauer showed that all too clearly.
Confession time: When I first heard of the “Today” interview Monday, I thought, “Sure where else would a slumping Obama go when he needs some softballs that he can hit out of the park and try to get his stroke back except “Today,” the place that offers safe harbor to the likes of reality TV’s Kate Gosselin.
But I am glad I held off on writing until I saw the full interview this morning, because I was pre-judging and would have been wrong on that count. Lauer was prepared, focused and gave the President very little room to play his usual TV interview games. Lauer did a very good interview, and good for Lauer and “Today” and for all of us who want the best information we can get about the man running the country in these tumultuous times.
Lauer asked Obama directly about the comparisons of the president’s performance in the Gulf with that of George W. Bush during Katrina.
That’s when the “cool and elegant” Obama started getting riled and announced, “This is not theater… I don’t always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows.”
Really? This is the guy who has been on every cable channel in America it seems — cooking steaks with Bobby Flay, shooting hoops and filling out NCAA brackets with any ESPN or CBS Sports analyst who shows up at the White House with a basketball, trading barbs with comedians and talk show hosts at the drop of a ht.
For most of his first year in office, it seemed as if Obama was always on TV in safe settings — and no one played the TV-as-theater game better since John F. Kennedy.
But not any more. The TV gods have abandoned Obama, and now, the more he tries to use TV to get on top of the Gulf disaster the more his contempt for the men and women who bring us news via that medium is exposed.
Here’s Obama saying he was on top of the spill from day one and in the Gulf before the news media — two statements that while they open to some interpretation are quite a stretch.
“I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf,” he told Lauer. “A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”
Love the elegance of that last phrase.
And when Obama tried to replay his pre-tested soundbite answer that he wasn’t elected to “vent,” but rather to “solve problems,” Lauer expertly led him down the BP path with quotes from BP CEO Tony Hayward.
“But to solve the problem you need to have a reliable partner,” Lauer began. “Let me read you some of things that Mr. Hayward has said over the course of this disaster. He said, ‘The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water value;’ – somewhat obvious – ‘the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very very modest.’ And then he said, ‘no one wants to end more than I do, I want my life back, family members of those 11 people who died on the rig, and people’s whose lives are going to be changed for years want their lives back too.’ He doesn’t work for you but if he did, would you want him out?
“He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements,” Obama said.
And yet, Obama is still working with Hayward, and for several weeks, was deferring excessively while we now know BP kept crucial facts about the spill from Americans.
It was the so-called talking heads like NBC’s Brian Williams, Mr. President, who helped the American people first get a sense of what a catastrophe this was — even as your administration helped BP keep cameras away from the accident, while allowing Hayward and his minions to egregiously low ball the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf. It was your administration, Mr. President, that allowed, if not helped, Hayward and BP lie to us about the horrible thing that was happening to our country.”
Comment: This president is a very skilled and gifted chameleon.