Sean Davis beat me to the punch on this, so let me just echo his point: It’s very, very hard to explain dropping a detail as eyebrow-raising as this from a story about the president and counterterrorism except as a political favor.
Obama needs more cable news in his media diet? Revealing comment in a private meeting with newspaper columnists… pic.twitter.com/iUHz6Ey38g
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 18, 2015
That’s as Obama as Obama gets, a guy so disconnected from the public mood about terrorism that he needs CNN to explain it to him slowly, with pictures. For righties in particular, it’s an echo of Obama disclaiming responsibility for damaging government screw-ups repeatedly over the past six years by claiming he’d never heard of them until he watched the news. Suddenly he’s not a news-watcher anymore, huh? This is a guy who won two landslides precisely because he was, in theory, much more intuitively in tune with Americans’ concerns than the old, sclerotic Republican candidates were. For President Romney, an admission like this would be an 80-point “OUT OF TOUCH” headline. For Obama, it’s a detail so irrelevant that it can’t make the final online draft of a news story. How come?
And that’s not all, per Davis:
New York Times editors also changed the story’s headline four separate times, according to Newsdiffs.org. Each headline revision either put Obama in a better light or put the GOP in a worse one.
The original headline when the story was first published was “Obama Visiting National Counterterrorism Center.” Less than two hours later, the headline was “Obama, at Counterterrorism Center, Offers Assurances On Safety.” Then the headline was changed to “Frustrated by Republican Critics, Obama Defends Muted Response to Attacks.” Two hours later, the headline was once again revised to “Under Fire From G.O.P., Obama Defends Response to Terror Attacks.” The most recent headline revision, which accompanied the deletion of the passage where Obama admitted he didn’t understand the American public’s anxiety about terrorism, now reads, “Assailed by G.O.P., Obama Defends His Response To Terror Attacks.”
The headline about Obama’s “muted” response suggests that even Times editors recognized the detail about cable news was important; it was O’s own explanation, however surreal, for why his response was muted. It explained, for instance, why he thought it’d be smart after mass murder in Paris to go out there and lecture Americans about their intolerance of Syrian refugees. That’s what happens when you miss a few episodes of “Hardball,” I guess. So then: Give me a theory of why that detail would have been dropped that doesn’t boil down to some variation of “The White House called up the Times and threatened to limit access if they left it in there.” What I’d like to know is when, precisely, the detail disappeared relative to when people like Stelter were making it go viral on Twitter. Did the Times publish it initially not realizing just how embarrassing it was for O, only to spring into action and send it down the memory hole once their readers pointed it out? Or did Team Obama recognize the damage once the first draft of the story went live and then take aggressive action to have it torn down? Give me a scenario where this info wasn’t removed for political reasons. Was the bit about Obama and cable news factually wrong? If so, who was the NYT’s source? Why don’t they burn him/her as punishment? Was it just that the story was eating up too much space in the print edition? If so, how do you explain this?
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) December 18, 2015
Was the source “sort of” right about what Obama said but failed to provide some key context that made the quote better? What would that context be? And if the context is key, why does WaPo’s story on O have a version of the same cable-news admission?
Acknowledging privately that he flubbed his initial response to the Paris attacks, Obama’s aides are hoping to add more theater to his counterterrorism response. The actual strategy isn’t changing much. But with White House aides saying they feel that Americans are more worried about the immediate threat of terrorism in the wake of Paris and San Bernadino than at any point since 9/11, there will be more events like Obama’s visits to the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center this week — meetings that would likely be happening anyway, but that will be deliberately pushed into public view, with the president making sure to speak more passionately himself.
There’s no political problem that more speechmaking on TV can’t solve. Have we at last reached Peak Obama? I think Peak Obama happened a few years ago, even before he was elected, but I’m open to argument.
Update: You buy this, don’t you? Especially given Davis’s point that the stuff they added after the cable-news bit was excised ran longer than the excised quote itself.
Comment from NYT on scrubbed Obama article. pic.twitter.com/WFGIYOxQqb
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) December 18, 2015
There are two paragraphs towards the end of the piece about Ted Cruz and the ethics of carpet-bombing. That’s a fine idea for a story in its own right. Why was it more important to include that in a piece about Obama’s approach to counterterrorism than the excised quote?