The Obama Administration kind of screwed the pooch on Monday. While the terrible events at the Washington Navy Yard were ongoing, in the sense that (if I was understanding the chaotic cable news coverage) the man who turned out to have been the shooter was dead but authorities were still concerned that there might be another shooter or shooters whose whereabouts were still unknown, the president went ahead with a scheduled speech to mark the five year anniversary of the 2008 economic meltdown. This was, necessarily, a very political speech, intended to list the administration’s economic achievements since taking office and to put some heat on Republicans who have obstructed economic improvement at every turn, and look poised to continue doing so. There was nothing wrong with the speech as such, but it just shouldn’t have been given while there was a manhunt still underway at the Navy Yards. There was nothing about the speech that meant that it had to be given on Monday, and the decision to go ahead with it was just atonal under the circumstances. It didn’t even succeed in putting pressure on the Republicans in advance of the looming government shutdown, since the networks and the three cable news channels all dropped their coverage of the speech 5-10 minutes in so as to go back to covering the Navy Yard shooting. It failed to accomplish its goal and only served to make the White House look bad.
If you were looking for media reaction to this speech, look no further than MSNBC, because Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd were ON IT:
“The White House has been significantly off point, it seems to me,” Mitchell said in response. “The president coming out after this event with some brief remarks about it, but then going into his criticisms of the Republicans over the economy on the fifth anniversary of the Lehman failure.”
“I think they wish they had yesterday back,” Todd agreed. “They are not saying it but you can feel it.”
He said that the administration might have done things differently if it had the opportunity. “It’s been a rough patch for them ever since the Syria crisis,” Todd said. “And it seems their timing is just a bit off.”
I mention this story because it shows that Chuck Todd has no problem taking a critical eye to our political leaders when he wants to do it. So I don’t really know what he’s talking about here:
During a segment on “Morning Joe,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) speculated that most opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been fed erroneous information about the law. Todd said that Republicans “have successfully messaged against it” but he disagrees with those who argue that the media should educate the public on the law. According to Todd, that’s President Barack Obama’s job.
“But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it,” Todd told Rendell. “They don’t repeat the other stuff because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”
Yes, you young reporters in training, know that it’s not your job to critically assess the factual accuracy of the things our leaders say. Apparently you’re only allowed to criticize the way they say it. Republicans lying about “death panels”? Yeah, maybe, but they’re “selling” it, so you should just talk about that! The White House, meanwhile, they just can’t “sell” the factual counter-argument, which is that the whole death panel thing is utter bullshit. Is it possible that they can’t “sell” the truth because the media is too busy marveling at how the Republicans have “sold” the lie to actually cover the truth? Who cares? Journamalism demands that we focus on the sizzle, not the steak!
Chuck Todd objects to this characterization of the actual words that actually left his face hole:
Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn’t expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) September 18, 2013
Except there’s still no indication that he does think the media should call out lies in the political arena, the way that it might if, say, a bicycle rider were caught lying about some stuff he put into his body. So here’s what I propose: Chuck Todd should explain to us what journamalism is. Are journamalists supposed to endeavor to report fact and cut through lies and bullshit? Or are journamalists supposed to just keep score about which side’s bullshit seems to be winning at any particular moment? This has serious implications for our system of governance. For one thing, if the media is just there to keep score, Democrats should stop trying to answer sexy lies with the boring truth and come up with some sexy lies of their own (“You want to talk ‘death panels’? Ted Cruz would round up poor people and grind their bodies into kibble if we weren’t here to stop him!”). For another thing, Chuck, my man, if you’re just around to keep score, I’m sorry to say that anybody can do that. We don’t need you pulling down six figures to confirm DC conventional wisdom about the day’s winners and losers, as though what goes on here is just a game that doesn’t impact real lives. You should stop wasting our time and go drive a street sweeper or wait tables somewhere and make a tangible contribution to society instead.
UPDATE: Chuck Todd continues to protest his innocence:
final tweet on this topic: thanks to a misleading headline and lack of context, folks are getting wrong idea about what I said. (1/2)
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) September 18, 2013
I assume by complaining that TPM’s headline was “misleading,” what Chuck really means is that he’s failed to sell his side of the story. After all, it’s not TPM’s job, nor is it anyone else’s, to make Chuck Todd’s case for him.