While knowledge is power, the information age could be too much of a good thing. That's the message some heard in President Obama's weekend commencement speech in which he bemoaned
Speaking at Hampton University in Virginia, the president raised alarms when he said "information becomes a distraction, a diversion" that is putting "pressure on our country and on our democracy."
The president suggested less is more when it comes to absorbing news content and urged graduates to take a skeptical eye toward news from blogs, cable television and radio as well as modern gadgets like iPods and PlayStations.
The class of 2010 is "coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter," the president said, earning an honorary doctorate of laws degree during the ceremony.
"And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- (laughter) -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy," he said.
But coming from a commander-in-chief known for his fondness for technology and skill at employing it to his political advantage, Obama's comments were seen as more than just a president's lament that the Kindle could someday replace the hardcover.
"Nobody (has) used the media more masterfully" than Obama, said Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center. "Now he turns against certain elements of it because he doesn't need them anymore, he thinks."
Obama has endured some nasty rumors at the hands of the Internet. Blogs and comment pages continue to allege that the president has not been honest about his place of birth -- Hawaii -- or about his religion -- Christianity.
The White House has assiduously rebutted and marginalized those whisper campaigns.
"With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all -- to know what to believe, to figure out who's telling the truth and who's not. Let's face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience in that regard," he said.
Targeting cable, radio and blogs has become somewhat of a political sport of the Obama administration.
The president in February, as the health care debate was in a crescendo, urged Democratic senators to "turn off" their televisions. He singled out CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and blogs, urging lawmakers to get out of the "echo chamber." That was after the administration spent several weeks in the fall criticizing Fox News.
Last September, the president also used a string of major network and cable interviews to scold the media for playing up "outrageous" political comments.
Another odd moment came in March, when an e-mail sent to Senate staffers warned them not to visit The Drudge Report out of concern for a virus. At the time, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., alleged that "somebody" was intentionally trying to "discourage" people from visiting the Web site, which is highly influential in shaping daily news coverage.
Bozell said to prove his "sincerity" about media and technology gripes, Obama should delete his massive e-mail list and take his staff off TV.
"It's just posturing on his part," Bozell said. "He is trying to put himself in opposition to those forces to improve his status with the public."