Obama Takes Media Heat For Shifting Blame On ISIL

It seems there are some issues about which even the sycophantic media are unwilling to give President Obama a pass. On Sunday, Obama equivocated on missing the rise of ISIL when he told 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft that it was the intelligence community’s fault. By Monday evening, the intelligence community and the media were crying foul. 

For example, NBC Nightly News reported last night that “the White House was repeatedly warned about the ISIS threat” prior to the rise of the terrorist group. Watch:

A similar piece on the front page of today’s New York Times describes the irritation noted among members of the intelligence community, which says the Obama White House disregarded many warnings.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

The White House denies that[.]


But by pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spent much of his briefing yesterday claiming that Obama was not blaming the intelligence community. ABC News’ Jon Karl should get some credit for grilling Earnest on this point, although ABC World News didn’t bother to have a segment covering any aspect of the campaign against ISIL. (This isn’t the first time Karl’s aggressive work at the White House has gone without note on ABC’s own programming.)

The coverage on the cable channels wasn’t any better for Obama. CNN’s Jim Sciutto told Anderson Cooper, the “one thing you can say with certainty is that the intelligence community warned often and loudly about the threat from ISIS.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews straight up called it “President Obama’s attack on the CIA for underestimating the threat from ISIS,” which was “the punch in the face, or the throw under the bus.”  On Fox News’ Special Report, Ed Henry noted that the administration was “clearly trying to backpedal.” 

There are a couple things at play here. First, there is just too great a paper trail of warnings about ISIL for the media to ignore. The intelligence community has been warning of ISIL since almost last year and warnings about Iraq fragmenting as a result of U.S. withdrawal go back even further. Obama was well aware of the dangers of abandoning Iraq to its own fortunes and he went ahead and did it anyway.

Second, unlike for Obama’s domestic spin, which the media is happy to repeat, Obama’s rise of ISIL lie requires the intelligence community to lie low and take their licks. They haven’t shown a willingness to do that for Obama before (see here, for example) and the White House was stupid to expect they would on something as big and important as who gets the blame for America’s latest war in the Middle East. Reporters love nothing so much as when sources in the secretive intelligence community want to dish on an administration, and anyone with a passing knowledge of the media should have known the media would pounce on this obvious attempt to pass the buck.

Third is something my colleague John Ekdahl has been talking about for a while and that is the fact that Democrats, in general, will at some point have to turn against Obama. We’ve already seen Democrats declining to appear with Obama on the campaign trail. We’ve also seen them distancing themselves from Obama’s signature legislation, Obamacare. Shortly, particularly for Democrats with an eye on 2016, they will have to distinguish themselves from Obama as a president whose time has come and gone. When that happens, the media (but I largely repeat myself) will too. An unpopular war is a likely place for that peeling away of support to start, don’t you think?

Gabriel Malor is a regular contributor at AoSHQ.