President Obama, media critic, dislikes 'false balance'

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President Obama reads news all day, mostly on his iPad, Amy Chozick writes in The New York Times. He prefers apps to newspaper sites, and includes the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in his morning reading diet. He also reads blogs and looks at Twitter, though he prefers longer pieces.

And like many news nerds, the president has some thoughts on the medium:

The news media have played a crucial role in Mr. Obama’s career, helping to make him a national star not long after he had been an anonymous state legislator. As president, however, he has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion. He particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans oppose almost any tax increase to reduce the deficit.

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts. ...

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, was previously Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief. He said the president thought that some journalists were more comfortable blaming both parties, regardless of the facts. “To be saying ‘they’re both equally wrong’ or ‘they’re both equally bad,’ ” Mr. Carney said, “then you look high-minded.”

Obama struck a similar chord in a speech to journalists at the Associated Press lunch in April:

I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented — which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.

In an interview with Rolling Stone a few months ago, Obama said he reads all The New York Times columnists. He will "thumb through all the major papers in the morning. I’ll read the Times and Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, just to catch up." He also told Rolling Stone:

I don’t watch a lot of TV news. I don’t watch cable at all. I like The Daily Show, so sometimes if I’m home late at night, I’ll catch snippets of that. I think Jon Stewart’s brilliant. It’s amazing to me the degree to which he’s able to cut through a bunch of the nonsense – for young people in particular, where I think he ends up having more credibility than a lot of more conventional news programs do.

For a guy with strong views about the political press, Obama buys into one of its pet obsessions: "Mr. Obama has said the lack of an effective narrative has been one of his administration’s biggest missteps," Chozick writes.

Campaign workers are carving out their own narratives, Nick Judd writes, by making animated GIFs (and by joyful coincidence, here's a guide for doing those). Nancy Leeds' Campaignsick is a reaction-GIF Tumblr for field operatives; she tells Judd her inbox is a stronghold of bipartisanship.

Convention coverage

But who will make animated GIFs of this summer's Democratic and Republican conventions? It doesn't sound like Tampa-area TV station employees will have the time, amid the epic groundwork they're laying to cover the Republican confab in Tampa at the end of August.

They're wiring up skyboxes, making transportation plans, and figuring out how to collaborate: "The multimedia Gannett contingent will include 19 broadcasters from Gannett stations in Jacksonville, Atlanta and Cleveland, says Rob Mennie, Gannett Broadcasting VP and senior news executive," Diana Marszalek writes. They'll share working space as well as content.

The preparation includes figuring out how to deal with the heavy security that encases political conventions these days and devising contingencies plans in case that security is breached or if other emergencies arise. Some reporters and producers are getting safety training.

Nobody is saying exactly what the extra effort is costing, although one station said its budget is running “north of six figures.”

The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times will be partnering with Politico for RNC coverage.

The National Press Photographers Association has tips for photographers covering the conventions: Display your press passes. Consider a protective plastic insert for your baseball hat. And be careful around cops:

If a police officer orders you to move it is advisable to comply with the request. How far you move is something that you will have to decide for yourself. If you believe that the order is not a reasonable one, ask to speak to a supervisor or the public information officer if that is possible. It is important to be very aware that most police officer do not like to be questioned or challenged once they have told you to do (or not do) something and a mere hesitation, question or request may result in your detention or arrest.

Are typos the new gaffe?

Here's a new brow-furrower: coverage of typos, which are eating gaffes' lunch in this slow period for political news before the conventions. The latest example: Karl Rove's Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies is taking advantage of a typo on the Federal Election Commission's website, Seth Cline writes in U.S. News and World Report.

The 501 (c)(4) nonprofit group must disclose its donors before buying ads within 30 days of a political convention, but an FEC error on its website set Aug. 7 (instead of Aug. 4) as the date that disclosure rules kick in. The Democratic National Convention begins Sept. 4. The FEC has since corrected its site, while the group had three extra days to run ads without disclosing donors. And they did.

"Records at local stations in Detroit, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Las Vegas all show Crossroads has purchased advertising time beyond the August 4 deadline," Cline reports.

In July, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives held up a Republican bill that contained a typo that dramatically altered its meaning, and in May, Mitt Romney released a mobile app that promised "A Better Amercia."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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