Media Buzz

Media Charge, Obama Fumbles: Playing defense with the press

Brit Hume says president is looking to shift blame


By the time President Obama went before the cameras yesterday morning, the media narrative was all about the Democrats in revolt.

The view inside the White House is that the lengthy presser needed to be a catharsis of sorts. Given the media negativity, in this view, Obama had to show that he was engaged in managing the health care mess, that he understood the criticism, and that he knew he had “fumbled” the rollout, to use his football analogy.

Administration officials believe the media criticism is warranted but overdone—and that their guy had no choice but to take it.

The president briefly indulged that view, telling reporters: “The things that go right, you guys aren’t going to write about. The things that go wrong get prominent attention.” That, he acknowledged, has always been the case.

The questions were aggressive, in marked contrast to that presser during the shutdown when no one asked a single ObamaCare question.

AP’s Julie Pace: Do you feel as though the flawed health care rollout has led to a breach in the public trust and confidence in government?

CBS’s Major Garrett: “You said after the law was implemented or signed, ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it.’ Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over.  Do you not believe, sir, the American people deserve a deeper, more transparent accountability from you as to why you said that over and over?”

The White House seemed slow-footed in recent days as one Democratic lawmaker after another demanded that Obama find a way to keep his “if you like your plan” promise. That’s why the president had to preempt by offering his own plan to restore insurance to the millions who had lost it.

There’s nothing the press loves more than a party at war with itself, as we saw with the Republicans during the government shutdown. Obama had even lost Bill Clinton, prompting all kinds of pundit chatter about how Bubba was trying to distance Hillary from this debacle.

And the president had to realize that this train was leaving the station whether he was on board or not.

An hour before Obama spoke, I was on a conference call with senior White House officials who briefed reporters on background. When they used phrases like “suspending enforcement” and “an extension of the grandfathering principle,” it was evidence that the administration can’t force the insurance companies that have canceled policies to restore them for 2014. And that’s the Achilles heel here.

Chris Cillizza’s take at The Fix:

“There’s no question that this was a different Obama. But, whether Obama’s willingness to take his medicine/fall on his sword/admit he fumbled the ball will help arrest the political free-fall in which he (and his party) currently find themselves on ObamaCare is very much up in the air…

“Put simply: Sometimes saying sorry just isn’t enough.”

Politico casts the president as having little choice:

“Obama blamed himself for the problems, a clear stab at saving the law by drawing attention to his own failings — and preventing a full-scale revolt from Democrats…

“Obama might be so toxic on ObamaCare that fellow Democrats reject his plan — or that enough of him do to make him look ineffectual.”

Will it work? New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait is pessimistic:

“Does Obama’s plan solve the policy problem of people losing their plans? Probably not — the main mechanism is to let Obama throw the blame to insurance companies (many of whom, as noted, originally threw the blame at Obama.) Does it solve the political problem of angry individual market customers? Again, probably not — many and perhaps most people won’t be able to keep their individual plans. Democrats also want the chance to take an affirmative vote to ‘fix’ ObamaCare, and an administrative ruling doesn’t let them do that. Obama’s announcement mainly leaves the law in the same place it’s been for a month and a half: waiting to see if the administration can fix the website.”

Which means this may be an ephemeral “fix.”

Palin and the Pope

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Sarah Palin said that Pope Francis has “had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me.” She cautioned that  “I’m not one to trust the media’s interpretation of somebody’s message,”

Palin, a Fox News contributor, backpedaled on her Facebook page—and took new swipes at the media:

“It was not my intention to be critical of Pope Francis. I was reminding viewers that we need to do our own homework on news subjects, and I hadn't done mine yet on the Pope's recent comments as reported by the media. Knowing full well how often the media mischaracterizes a person’s comments (especially a religious leader’s), I don’t trust them to get it right when it comes to reporting on the Vatican. I do, however, trust my many Catholic friends and family, including some excellent Catholic writers, who have since assured me that Pope Francis is as sincere and faithful a shepherd of his church as his two predecessors whom I admired. I apologize for not being clearer in my response, thus opening the door to critical media that does what it does best in ginning up controversy.”

Palin is entitled to criticize the Pope’s comments on such subjects as gays and abortion, which do depart from church orthodoxy with a more tolerant tone. 

But he made them a) in a recorded press conference on a plane, and b) in a transcribed interview with a Catholic weekly that was approved by the Pope. So I don’t think we can fault the media on this one. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.