What role should media outlets play in dealing with political messaging from the government? A couple of stories over the last 24 hours raise that question, which NBC’s Chuck Todd attempted to answer in regard to ObamaCare. [Note: The video is not embeddable.] TPM titled the clip in question, “It’s Not Media’s Job to Correct GOP’s ObamaCare Falsehoods,” which is the general assumption carried into the discussion — but as Twitchy notes, isn’t exactly what Todd said, either:
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell: “If you took ten people from different parts of the country who say they’re against the bill, and sat them down, I’d love to have ten minutes with them and say, “tell me why you’re against the bill.” And if they told you anything, it would be stuff that’s incorrect.”
Chuck Todd: “But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it, and they wouldn’t have even heard – they don’t repeat the other stuff, because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is that people say, ‘well it’s your folks’ fault in the media. No, it’s the President of the United States’s fault for not selling it!”
There is a lot of nuance that Twitterers on the Left missed in that statement. (Read Twitchy’s post for some of the more amusing responses.) Todd’s point isn’t that the media doesn’t have a duty to correct misinformation from officials, but that the White House is losing because its own messaging hasn’t been effective. I’d disagree with that point, too — I think it’s because people see the depressing effect ObamaCare has on full-time job creation and the rapid increase in premiums that came this year — but Todd’s overall point remains valid. The media has a duty to referee on messaging, but not to carry water for the government, which Todd attempted to clarify later:
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 was NOT saying it isn't job of journos to call out lies, I said it was not job of media to sell WH's health care message, it is WH's job
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) September 18, 2013
The problem is, of course, that the “refereeing” tends toward water-carrying in many cases. Republican messaging gets a lot more scrutiny than Democratic messaging, despite the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the White House.
It doesn’t help when we find out about secret meetings between the White House and news organizations, either. In this case, it didn’t help:
But that wasn’t the last time Obama met with Times editorial board members. On Aug. 29, the president again sat down for an off-the-record discussion with Rosenthal and some members of the editorial board, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Times opinion columnists David Brooks, Gail Collins and Ross Douthat also attended, but editors for the paper’s news pages did not.
The meeting came amid the White House’s push for military intervention in Syria, one of the topics discussed that day. The Times editorial board hadn’t explicitly come out for or against a strike on Syrian President Bashar Assad before the meeting, and soon after the paper still expressed concerns about the administration taking action without congressional approval and broad international support.
On Aug. 26, The Times editorial board had stressed that the White House should try exhausting diplomatic efforts before striking Syria. The paper noted that while “Assad’s use of chemical weapons surely requires a response of some kind, the arguments against deep American involvement remain as compelling as ever.”
Two days later, The Times editorial board wrote that more answers were needed from the administration on Syria. “Obama has yet to spell out how that response would effectively deter further use of chemical weapons,” the paper said.
On the afternoon of Aug. 30, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case that Syria had used chemical weapons, signaling that U.S. retaliation for crossing a “red line” drawn by Obama could be imminent. But the Times still seemed unconvinced that immediate action was the best course.
In an editorial posted online Aug. 30 and in the next day’s paper, Times editors wrote that “even in the best of circumstances, military action could go wrong in so many ways; the lack of strong domestic and international support will make it even more difficult.”
The meeting isn’t so objectionable in theory, but should be considered in context. This is a President who rarely makes himself available for open press conferences, and does sit-down interviews with major news organizations only slightly more often — usually when he’s desperate. Otherwise, Obama thumbs his nose at the White House press corps, preferring the lighter scrutiny of the entertainment industry. In that context, perhaps the New York Times should have insisted on bringing its beat reporters into the meeting and putting the conversation on the record, and refusing the secret pow-wow otherwise.