Matt Yglesias, the Vox journalist who elicited the “random” quotation, complains that by paying so much attention to a mere slip of the tongue, the Washington media punishes politicians for trifling errors—and denies itself access to more important news in the future:
This is the problem with gaffe-coverage: it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing and leaving nothing behind. Worse, it distracts from more consequential, but complicated, debates. … Long-term, the problem here isn’t just news consumers find themselves listening to bullshit gaffe stories. It’s that politicians learn the same lessons over and over again: unscripted moments are dangerous and generally to be avoided. Don’t give interviews and don’t stray from talking points.
The media will bemoan lack of access and robotic, scripted answers. But it will also punish deviations from the script. And it will do so in the most trivial ways. No minds were changed during Randomgate, and nobody learned anything. A couple of spokespeople had a bad afternoon. Some websites (including this one) got some extra pageviews. And every politician learned to be that much more boring in the future.
I think all this is very wrong. President Obama’s choice of words in his Vox interview in no way constituted a gaffe. He spoke about the Charlie Hebdo attack in a way consistent with the way he has spoken in the past – and for reasons integral to his administration’s distinctive approach to terrorism. President Obama described the Paris attack as random not in order to conceal the Jewishness of the victims. He described the attack as random because, for deeply considered reasons, he did not wish to acknowledge the anti-Jewish ideology of the assailants.