It is a delicious irony that President Barack Obama’s decision to sit down for an extended interview with the left-leaning explanatory journalism outfit Vox.com is backfiring so spectacularly.
To review, what was a relatively milquetoast conversation about a variety of subjects grew unexpectedly controversial when the subject of Islamic radical terrorism was introduced by Matthew Yglesias. The president courted unnecessary controversy when he made three contentions.
A) Islamic radical terrorism is akin to local crime; a regular and permanent feature of modern life that can only be mitigated by a “big city mayor.” Like crime, the rate of terrorism must be reduced in order for Americans to thrive. The implication, however, is that Islamic radical extremist violence is here to stay.
B) The threat of terrorism is “sexy,” and that is why the media covers it so intensely. It may not, however, be the most pressing threat to American national security. Americans are not imperiled by Islamic terrorism in the same way that they are by climate change, for example. But the press condescendingly avoids covering that subject with the intensity it deserves because it is more complex than simple terroristic violence.
C) Terrorist’s targets, like a kosher deli in Jewish neighborhood in Paris that was attacked in January in the wake of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, are selected “randomly.”
You can see why these responses were troubling, to say the least. But the president’s team of press liaisons, protective of the president as they are, went about attempting to justify Obama’s remarks rather than to simply clarify his intentions and move on.
“The adverb that the president chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible, tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happen to be,” White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest obfuscated.
“I believe if I remember the victims specifically,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki echoed in an effort to muddle the anti-Semitic nature of the attack on that Parisian Jewish deli. “They were not all victims of one background or one nationality.”
The offensive nature of this intentional attempt to confuse the press about the true character of anti-Semitic Islamist terrorism resulted in a terrible news cycle for the White House. Just hours after these statements were made, both Psaki and Earnest insisted that the administration has always regarded the Paris attacks as the work of “anti-Semitic” terrorists. If you misconstrued their meaning, well that’s your problem.
And that would probably be the end of this controversy if the egos at Vox were not so easily wounded by the White House’s efforts to walk back the statements Obama made in his exclusive interview with their outlet.
“A few weeks ago, I had the chance to interview the President of the United States,” Yglesias wrote on Wednesday. “Among other things, I asked him if he thought the media exaggerates the threat posed by terrorism relative to other national security problems.”
“He largely agreed with my premise,” Yglesias self-aggrandized, “which I thought was interesting, but he also said something rather banal — violent terrorist attacks are both scary and morally wrong.”
In the above passage, Yglesias both celebrates his own role in sparking a national controversy and undermines the White House’s efforts to walk back the president’s comments.
In Vox’s interview, Obama contended that terrorism is “absolutely” over-hyped compared to a threat like climate change or epidemic disease. This is something Obama said, as far as I can tell, because he thinks it’s true. [Emphasis added]
I would urge everyone who thinks that the White House fully and confidently supports the notion the press understates the threat posed by climate change to watch how Earnest responds to ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl when he was asked to expand on the president’s contention.
Earnest’s equivocation, vacillation, and eventual refusal to directly answer Karl’s question suggests that Yglesias isn’t doing the White House any favors by insisting that the president said what he really thought.
The reality is, of course, that Yglesias is correct. Obama said precisely what he really meant in that interview, and that fact alone has led to a minor crisis for this White House. Obama’s belief that climate change is a more pressing threat than Islamist terrorism is a view shared only by the Democratic Party’s left-wing. What pleases Yglesias is likely to mightily offend the majority of the American public.
A true friend of this administration would allow the president and his aides to insincerely walk those comments back so as to save some face. But that would be a repudiation of Vox, Yglesias, and the fringe progressivism that both represent. And there are only so many ego-deflating insults one can take in the space of a week.