The summer of 2014 has looked a lot like the summer of 2013 for President Barack Obama. In quick succession, the scandals which plagued his administration in the summer of last year – the IRS’s targeting and the White House’s response to the Benghazi attacks – were augmented by the addition of a couple of international crises, the abuses at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and flood of immigrant children across the southern border.
The president appears paralyzed, but that is not the case. The administration has made the conscious decision in the case of the immigration crisis not to attempt to resolve it with vigor, preferring instead to allow the Congress to act in tandem with the White House in order to both effect a comprehensive solution and to prevent the president from being personally linked to the border crisis.
To the press, which has always been enamored with the robust executive, Obama’s White House seems stunned and unable to manage crisis communications. That was the subject of Tuesday’s First Read Minute, hosted by NBC News Senior Political Editor Mark Murray and National Political Writer Carrie Dann: “Why can’t the Obama administration deal with crisis?”
At least, that was the purported topic of conversation. But this segment went bizarrely off the rails rather fast.
Murray began by observing that the Summer of Scandals II is even worse for the White House than Summer of Scandals I. From the Ukraine, to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the Taliban Five, to the VA, to immigration; the White House has their hands full. Dann noted that the immigration crisis has been particularly poorly handled.
“This has been a growing problem, but it’s really ballooned in the last couple weeks as there’s been more press around these kids who are coming unaccompanied, and it’s really just dominating the narrative for the White House,” Dann said. “And it seems like something that the White House could have seen coming. This wasn’t a problem that suddenly exploded overnight. It’s been growing since 2009.”
She observed that the White House seems to be reactive to crises rather than proactive. “And that reaction, always kind of being controlled by events rather than controlling events, has been a problem for this White House when it comes to this crisis management story,” Murray agreed.
So far, so good, right? It would be hard to disagree with any of this analysis. But, then, the familiar reflexes began to kick and you could literally see the gears grinding as the hosts groped for the president’s source of absolution.
The first equally culpable party in the immigration crisis, Murray alleged, was Congress who had failed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. “But this is also a media story,” he self-flagellated. “We keep going from one crisis to the next, to the next, to the next. And, like, ‘Oh, you remember Ukraine? How did that end up? Who’s the new VA secretary? Totally forgot about that guy.’”
Dann agreed, noting that the Bergdahl episode which dominated the headlines for weeks in the late spring “seems like an afterthought” today. Even the Affordable Care Act, a source of endless consternation for the White House, has fallen off the front pages.
Murray and Dann’s assessment is more of an indictment of the media than a successful effort to absolve the White House of fault for terrible crisis management. The natural inclination of journalists and editors alike is to favor the fresh, the new, the breaking. This creates disincentives to follow up on any of last week’s big stories in spite of the fact that they remain rich sources of both titillating and captivating news.
That practice may serve the readership, and it definitely serve the bottom line, but it doesn’t serve the public.
The pair closed by happily noting that they are “eight crises in” and they will be moving on to “the ninth one soon.” That is a confession, not a signoff.
This was a bizarre segment which evolved from an intentional indictment of the White House’s political acumen to an inadvertent condemnation of the press as a whole. Then again, those two parties really are two halves of the same whole.