Obama Takes Media to Task for Coverage of Racial Controversy, Wilson

Diplomat. Financial regulator. Cheerleader. Doctor. 

President Obama's worn all these hats since taking office. Now he's assuming a new role: media critic. 

The president of the United States used the Sunday morning talk shows to broadly scold the news media for playing up what he called "rude" and "outrageous" political comments, and urge the 24-hour news networks to consider giving more of a platform to those who demonstrate decency and civility. 

Obama blanketed the airwaves Sunday, appearing on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and the Hispanic network Univision in a bid to promote his health care plan. But he also very deliberately used the unprecedented media blitz to chide those journalists who cover him, delivering a similar lecture on every network except Univision about the importance of changing the way media prioritize stories. 

"The easiest way to get on television right now is to be really rude. If you're just being sensible and giving people the benefit of the doubt, and you're making your arguments, you don't get time on the nightly news," Obama said on ABC's "This Week." 

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"You might on Sunday morning," host George Stephanopoulos countered -- to which Obama said, "But if you say something outrageous, you're there in a hot second." 

He continued that thought on NBC's "Meet the Press." 

"The easiest way to get 15 minutes on the news or your 15 minutes of fame is to be rude. ... That's something that I think needs to change," Obama said, lamenting the habit of "plucking out a sentence here or a comment there." 

The president was evidently agitated by the coverage the media have given to stories that sprouted as a result of Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouting, "You lie," at Obama during his health care address to a joint session of Congress more than a week ago. Coverage of the outburst seemed to overshadow coverage of Obama's health care plan itself, and later evolved into coverage of racial controversy after several prominent Democrats, including former President Jimmy Carter, claimed critics like Wilson were racially motivated. 

"The media loves to have a conversation about race," Obama noted on NBC. "This is catnip to the media because it is a running thread in American history that is very powerful and it evokes some very strong emotion." 

Obama dealt with a similar media furor over race in July after he waded -- to his detriment -- into the case of a black Harvard professor who was arrested at his house by a white Cambridge police officer. Obama said the police "acted stupidly," but following enormous uproar walked back his statement and played peacemaker by inviting the officer and professor to the White House for a beer. 

Dealing again with the issue, the first black U.S. president made clear Sunday that, while some of his critics and supporters surely are motivated by race, most of them are not. 

And he urged the media to look for less controversial content, offering somewhat of a wish list on CNN's "State of the Union." 

"I think it's important for the media -- you know, not to do any media-bashing here -- to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or FOX or any of the other stations -- MSNBC -- is to just say something rude and outrageous," Obama said. "And, you know, part of what I'd like to see is all of us reward decency and civility in our political discourse. That doesn't mean you can't be passionate, and that doesn't mean that you can't speak your mind. But I think we can all sort of take a step back here and remind ourselves who we are as a people." 

The president squeezed in the same point on CBS' "Face the Nation," accusing the media of viewing "extreme elements" and "conflict" as "catnip." 

"Meet the Press" host David Gregory subtly pointed out the irony of appearing on five Sunday shows, which gave him an extensive platform to discuss substance and policy, in order to denounce TV news. 

"You get a lot of air time too, though, and your views are not rude," Gregory said. 

"I do occupy a pretty special seat at the moment," Obama conceded. 

House Republican Leader John Boehner, though, disputed Obama's assertion that "rude" voices are dominating the debate. 

"I don't know that the tone of the debate has gotten out of control. It's been spirited," Boehner said on NBC. And he blamed Democrats for prolonging the controversy over Wilson and race, since Democratic leaders drew out the conflict with a vote on the House floor to formally admonish Wilson -- even after he apologized to the White House. 

"It didn't need to happen. It was over with. As the president said, it's time to talk about health care, not talk about Joe Wilson," Boehner said.