Obama: 'One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates'

The New Republic | Poynter | "60 Minutes"

In an interview with The New Republic's Franklin Foer and Chris Hughes, President Obama "asked us in granular detail about the health of the media business." Specifically, he "wanted to know if The New Yorker and The Atlantic had found workable business models."

Obama has said before that he reads both magazines. "The New Yorker and The Atlantic still do terrific work," he told Rolling Stone last April.

During the 45-minute interview with Foer and Hughes, the president "bemoaned his own difficulty accessing newspapers and magazines on his ultra-secure presidential iPad, which doesn't allow him to enter required subscriber information."

Obama also reads all of The New York Times columnists, he told Rolling Stone, which would require a subscription.

In August, The New York Times' Amy Chozick reported that the president "typically begins his day upstairs in the White House reading the major newspapers, including his hometown Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, mostly on his iPad through apps rather than their Web sites. ... During the day, Mr. Obama reads newspapers on his iPad and print copies of magazines like The Economist and The New Yorker. On most Air Force One flights, he catches up on the news on his iPad."

In The New Republic interview, the president discussed the role of media in his second term:

I think if you talk privately to Democrats and Republicans, particularly those who have been around for a while, they long for the days when they could socialize and introduce bipartisan legislation and feel productive. So I don't think the issue is whether or not there are people of goodwill in either party that want to get something done. I think what we really have to do is change some of the incentive structures so that people feel liberated to pursue some common ground.

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it.

I think John Boehner genuinely wanted to get a deal done, but it was hard to do in part because his caucus is more conservative probably than most Republican leaders are, and partly because he is vulnerable to attack for compromising Republican principles and working with Obama.

The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side. I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself — and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this — are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done. ...

I think the issue is that we have these institutional barriers that prevent what the American people want from happening. Some of them are internal to Congress, like the filibuster in the Senate. Some of them have to do with our media and what gets attention. Nobody gets on TV saying, "I agree with my colleague from the other party." People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things.

Even on issues like the response to Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie was getting hammered by certain members of his own party and media outlets for cooperating with me to respond to his constituents. That gives you an indication of how difficult I think the political environment has become for a lot of these folks. And I think what will change that is politicians seeing more upside to cooperation than downside, and right now that isn't the case. Public opinion is going to be what changes that.

Obama also revisited the theme of "false balance," which he previously criticized at an Associated Press lunch last year. He told Foer and Hughes:

In fact, that's one of the biggest problems we've got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, "A plague on both their houses." On almost every issue, it's, "Well, Democrats and Republicans can't agree" — as opposed to looking at why is it that they can't agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?

Hughes purchased The New Republic last year, after working at Facebook and then on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. He's also an Obama donor, the interview notes.

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked together with Steve Kroft for a rare  joint on-camera interview. "This is not an interview I ever expected to be doing," said Kroft, who previously interviewed Obama after the capture of Osama bin Laden.

After the president praised Clinton, who ran against him in 2008 and is considered a strong contender for the 2016 election, Kroft questioned whether Obama's "endorsement" had an expiration date. "You guys in the press are incorrigible," Obama responded. "I was literally inaugurated four days ago. And you're talking about elections four years from now."

Obama has a long history with Kroft, reports Politico:

Kroft has conducted more one-on-one interviews with Obama, both as a candidate and as president, than any other television personality. It was Kroft who interviewed Obama days before he announced his candidacy for president in 2007, Kroft who landed the first post-election interview with Obama and his wife in 2008, and Kroft who scored the first interview after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

The reasons are simple, according to sources who worked on the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns: Obama trusts Kroft, and he trusts the “60 Minutes” format, which allows for longer answers and isn’t subject to the tight editing required for nightly news packages. On “60 Minutes,” an hour-long news magazine, Obama can stretch out and give nuanced answers to complicated questions.

The "60 Minutes" interview of Obama and Clinton filled the first half of the show.

Related: Michael Kinsley returns to The New Republic (again)


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