Journalists wonder: Is it 'tacky' for Obama to be cashing in?

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When Barack Obama was vacationing recently with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey aboard a $300 million yacht in Tahiti, one wonders if he ever hummed Springsteen's "All Or Nothin' At All."

At the moment, it seems like he wants it all as he returns to a post-Tahiti public life and cashes in. And the press is not quite sure what to make of it.

Fox Business writes, "Obama, a progressive Democrat, spoke frequently about Wall Street greed during his eight years as president, and now he’s accepting a speaking fee from the industry he singled out as the main culprit of the banking collapse."

The Hill contends, "Of course, Obama is a private citizen now and can do whatever he pleases to earn income; but the massive payment is the height of hypocrisy since Obama utilized anti-Wall Street remarks to propel himself into the White House."

Ebony makes an, uh, eclectic argument that it's all fine since we don't know what Obama will do with the money, he's got no influence since Republicans are in charge, other former presidents have done the same and Obama will be in demand for years.

The New York Times suggested a certain, even if unintentional ambiguity with slightly different headlines. In the print edition, it was "Still civic-minded, but he'll speak for $400,000." In the digital version, it seemed slightly tempered with, "Obama balances civic-minded side with the lure of a $400,000 speech."

The Los Angeles Times damned with faint praise: "$400,000 for an Obama speech: Tacky but not corrupt."

And The Washington Post is the most intriguing by offering four reasons taking the money is a bad idea, including a lengthy quote from Obama's own book that speaks to the slowly corrupting influence of chasing money, especially on one's basic value system. Yes, Obama was speaking ostensibly about life as an election official, but you can easily extrapolate and find relevance in a post-elected life.

By and large, liberal journalists whom I know either privately defend Obama or take a pass. Meanwhile, we had Sen. Elizabeth Warren, self-proclaimed scourge of Wall Street, saying she's "troubled" by his taking all that dough.

Like others, she misses a larger point, especially since Obama is not regulating anybody or pushing legislation as an elected official. Looking at the source of the dough is not the important matter. It's more how giant sums raise questions of personal character, the nature of public office — indeed, our most prominent public office — and how one should benefit from it, if at all.

Obama and his wife just agreed to a stunning $65 million book deal. He's got seven figures in the bank as a result of previous book successes. And might someone, somewhere, mention an annual pension above $200,000, or in and of itself more money than 98.5 percent of Americans earn (meaning 1.5 percent earn $200,000 or more)?

Is it too quaint to harken to Army Gen. George Marshall, who not only helped oversee the most glorious war effort of the 20th century and then the even more impressive post-war effort to help victims of that war? He simply found the idea of making money off his public service and image to be demeaning.

That's the notion of Obama supporters and liberal journalists whom I know. Others have done it, he worked his butt off, it's a free market and he didn't take a "vow of poverty," as former campaign strategist David Axelrod put it to the New York Times.

But there are a host of ways to avoid poverty that don't involve spending time on $300 million yachts, as he just did, and making a $400,000 speech (which means he will make other $400,000 speeches).

And you can do it while you assert, as Obama did earlier this week at the University of Chicago, that he's intent on assisting underprivileged youth and urging a new generation to avoid the lure of mere fame and money. The disjoint is unseemly.

But, while Donald Trump won't make it to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner tomorrow night, it seems that his predecessor might well feel very much at home if he were to show.

It is, after all, a ballroom filled with members of an American elite, including journalists who both discern and crave the growing nexus between public life, celebrity and riches. The nexus inspires the most rank forms of situational ethics and rationalizations.

New chiefs of AOL-Yahoo

"AOL CEO Tim Armstrong just sent out a memo titled 'Moving Forward' to the staffs of AOL and Yahoo about who will be the leaders of the combined company after Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo is complete." (Recode)

"No surprise: Not a lot of Yahoos have emerged from the internet cage match. Just four execs from the troubled internet giant will fill top roles."

Headline of the day

"More than half of digital advertising is mobile — digital ad spending in U.S. surged 22 percent to record $72.5 billion in 2016, according to a new report from the IAB." (The Wall Street Journal)

Trump, Obama and the press

With Washington Examiner and Reuters interviews, Trump is now around the 30 mark. At this same point, Obama had given 51, says Mark Knoller of CBS News.

The NFL Draft

Sports Illustrated's running analysis handed out a single "D," suggesting a truly dumb choice by the Chicago Bears for trading away several picks to nab a quarterback "who drew mixed reviews." (S.I.) The Sporting News called it a "head scratcher."

Blacks "living in hell?"

The estimable political journalist Tom Edsall cut to the chase: "Contrary to Donald Trump’s indiscriminate portrayal of African-Americans as 'living in hell,' the Black upper middle class is ascending the economic ladder at a faster rate than its White counterpart." (The New York Times)

Amazed by a tweet

Ben Thompson, the Taiwan-based boss of a much-followed and apparently profitable tech industry blog, Stratechery, says he was "amazed" at Katie Couric tweeting, "Fake news is ‘the greatest challenge we face in the industry at the moment,’ @PostBaron says at @theinformation's subscriber summit."

He then writes, "Let me remind you that Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Marty Baron’s industry — newspapers — is one without a business model (Baron’s newspaper is more fortunate than most in its reliance on a billionaire’s largesse). Said lack of business model is leading to a dwindling of local coverage, click-chasing, and, arguably, Donald Trump. That seems like a pretty big problem!"

"Fake news, on the other hand, tells people who’ve already made up their minds what they want to hear. Certainly it’s not ideal, but the tradeoffs in dealing with the problem, at least in terms of Facebook, are very problematic."

The power of image

I'm helping to judge a big fellowship competition Friday and last night judges met applicants at a dinner. The host urged the competitors to just relax Friday and don't feel compelled "to read everything in the Economist and try to impress us."

A few minutes later, while introducing herself, an applicant conceded that, ah, well, her spouse suggested getting the Economist and she'd brought it with her to Chicago. It's interesting how at least some publications, even amid all the digital tumult and fragmentation, retain potent associations with quality.

Facebook, Google and Amazon

"They don't know how to spell the word 'budget,' clearly," WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell told Cheddar yesterday on the topic of Amazon. He was saying, essentially, watch out, world for Amazon, given astonishing spending, be it on search, video programming, you name it. (Cheddar)

The London-based advertising kingpin underscored that his firm spent $5 billion with Google last year and $1.7 billion with Facebook. Interestingly, his clients' second-biggest recipient is the Murdoch empire, including Fox and The Wall Street Journal, and thus ahead of Facebook.

But if you watch this lively interview, the biggest takeaway involves Amazon, which he sees as a distinct threat to even Google. Consider this: in the United States, he noted, 55 percent of product searches now go through Amazon, not Google.

Op-eds sometimes work

Trump told chums he'd wanted to do tax reform before healthcare, even if it had to be a more slimmed down package than he espoused. "But it was an April 19 op-ed in The New York Times, titled 'Why are Republicans making tax reform so hard?' and penned by Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, that helped propel Trump to act." (The Washington Post)

Morning babble

Will Ripley, the lone Western TV journalist in Pyongyang, North Korea was on CNN's "New Day" with a statement from the wacko regime, "In case a war breaks out on the peninsula, the U.S. will be held wholly accountable for it, no matter who made a preemptive attack."

"Fox & Friends" concedes Trump was "missing the mark" on meeting his deadline today for a vote on new healthcare legislation and blaming Republican moderates. "We're watching C-SPAN. This whole thing took place before our eyes," said co-host Brian Kilmeade. It also reported on the unfortunate need to cancel an Ann Coulter speech at the University of California at Berkeley.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" had Donny Deutsch claim that "maybe there's a little more normalcy" in Trump. "There is something that has happened. Something has turned a bit." Or maybe "the meds have changed." He was merely kibitzing, he said, a Jewish thing, a joke, not serious. He didn't mean no meds.

Death in Arkansas

Arkansas put to death a fourth man in recent days late last night in the bizarre situation in which it's seeking to use its lethal injection drugs before they expire.

The Marshall Project's profile of the first underscores the details of his case "read like a fictional account of justice denied: an affair between his judge and a prosecutor on the case, the almost entirely white jury that found him guilty of killing a white woman in his second trial — the first ended in a mistrial."

Mike Royko, Shakespeare and love

I'd mentioned here a Saturday gathering at a Chicago bar to mark the 20th anniversary of the great Mike Royko's passing. I then heard from a devotee of the renowned Chicago Shakespeare Theater about a dinner last Sunday, Shakespeare's birthday.

It was a gathering of artists, donors and guests before the opening night performance of "Shakespeare in Love," with founder-artistic director Barbara Gaines sharing this excerpt from a July 30, 1981 Royko column on yes, love, titled "A Pact to Cherish":

"Nobody is really sure what love is. Shrinks mess around with trying to define it and just make it sound more complicated than it is. Poets, as neurotic as they are, do a much better job."

"I’m not sure what it is myself, except that it leaves you breathless, makes everything else seem unimportant, and can cause you ecstasy and misery and drive you crazy. And also drive you happy..."

"Now when you’re down, someone will take your hand and help you up. When you’re crying, someone will dry your tears. When you’re frightened, someone will hold and reassure you. When you’re alone, someone will tell you you’re not."

Well, have a good weekend. I've got baseball and soccer practices and soccer, flag football and baseball games. And, just as the Trump-less White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is underway, a gathering of Royko chums at a Chicago tavern to mark the 20th anniversary of his passing.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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