By Mark Landler – The New York Times.
WASHINGTON — President Obama delivered a forceful critique on Monday of politicians and the journalists who cover them, lamenting the circuslike atmosphere of the presidential campaign and declaring, “A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone.”
Speaking at a journalism prize ceremony in honor of Robin Toner, a longtime political reporter for The New York Times who died in 2008, Mr. Obama said the 2016 campaign had become “entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis,” a coarse spectacle that he said was tarnishing the “American brand” around the world.
“I was going to call it a carnival atmosphere,” the president said, “but that implies fun.”
“The No. 1 question I’m getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, ‘What is happening in America about our politics?’ ” Mr. Obama continued. “They care about America, the most powerful nation on earth, functioning effectively and its government being able to make sound decisions.”
Mr. Obama’s references to Donald J. Trump, the New York real estate developer turned Republican front-runner, were unmistakable in his criticism of “divisive and often vulgar rhetoric,” frequently aimed at women and at ethnic and racial minorities. But he also turned his fire on the news media, saying it had given an uncritical platform to those pronouncements, in part because of relentless economic pressures that have changed the way news organizations operate.
The president suggested that the news media had not done enough to question the promises made by politicians — an apparent reference not only to Mr. Trump, but also to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the independent who is challenging Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Sanders has promised free public college education and national health care coverage, ambitious social programs that critics say could never be enacted.
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“When people put their faith into someone who can’t possibly deliver his or her own promises,” Mr. Obama said, “that only breeds more cynicism.”
The president denounced what he called the practice of drawing “false equivalences” between competing claims made by politicians. “If I say the world is round and someone else says it’s flat, that’s worth reporting,” Mr. Obama said. “But you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support the notion that the world is round.”
Addressing an audience that included newspaper proprietors in addition to editors and reporters, the president said that despite their shrinking newsrooms and profit margins, they needed to plow money into investigative journalism. He warned them to avoid the ephemeral blandishments of the digital age — “slapdash” Twitter posts that disappear from iPhone screens within seconds — in favor of in-depth coverage of the issues.
“Just because something is substantive doesn’t mean it is not interesting,” Mr. Obama said.
The president invoked the legacy of Ms. Toner, saying she had not shied from delving into the complexities of health care reform or the intricacies of the tax code. Nor did she shrink from asking tough questions of Mr. Obama when he was a young senator starting his aspirational bid for the presidency. “She cast a critical eye from the very beginning,” he said.
Mr. Obama has discussed the coarse tone of the campaign before, as well as the economic realities of the corporate media world. But rarely has he spoken with such passion about what he views as the unmet promise of the news media. He spoke nostalgically about returning to his house in Chicago to sift through stacks of old newspapers, left on his desk, from the months before he was elected president.
“The curating function has diminished in this smartphone age,” he said.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that his relationship with the news media had not been unruffled during his years in the White House, but he suggested that he followed daily news coverage closely, saying, “You should not underestimate the number of times I’ve read something that you did and called somebody up and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”
The president singled out Jeffrey Goldberg, the national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, for a lengthy article he wrote on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that caused ripples around the world. Mr. Obama made clear the quotes attributed to him were accurate (they included blunt criticism of American allies like Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain).
The article, Mr. Obama said, had come up in a conversation he had with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Putin, evidently, was surprised by the candid tone of his comments.
“Unlike you, Vladimir, I don’t get to edit the piece before it’s published,” Mr. Obama said with a grin.