Media Buzz

The media verdict on Barack Obama’s 2013? Two thumbs down

FILE: July 6, 2012: President Obama speaks at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

FILE: July 6, 2012: President Obama speaks at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.  (AP)

For President Obama and the press, the past year has been anything but a slobbering love affair.

After the high point of his inauguration, I’d say Obama has gotten pretty rough coverage that fairly mirrors the rough passage of his fifth year in office. This has been capped by the last two months, with the ObamaCare fiasco dominating the coverage and casting doubt on the competence of the president and his team.

Even the improvements made to the health care website hasn’t spared the Obama team fresh criticism that some of the information being submitted to insurance companies is inaccurate, which could leave many without coverage.

And the lack of a significant domestic accomplishment leaves Obama’s defenders with few talking points. You know you’re having time when the only relief you get is talking to the Iranians about nukes (and even that agreement is proving a tough sell on the Hill).

Now, thanks to a journalistic convention, Obama is starting to get hit by a new wave of negative press. As we head into the Christmas season, the pundits are easing into their year-end wrap-ups, and are turning thumbs-down on the president’s tenure.

“By almost any measure, this has been a lost year for Obama on the domestic front,” says the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. “The flawed rollout of the health-care law, the most important initiative of his tenure, has been a huge setback. His main legislative efforts have either disappeared or are stalled. The economy continues to improve, but the fruits have been unevenly distributed. The government shutdown damaged the opposition, but the president’s ratings also are at record lows.

“This is hardly what Obama could have envisioned as he looked toward his second term in the weeks after his reelection.”

Balz is always measured in his judgments, so that amounts to a serious slam.

Chuck Todd and his co-authors at MSNBC echo the tone:

“It’s worth recapping how rough 2013 has been for President Obama. The struggles with the federal website (more on that below) have dominated the last two months, and have sent his approval ratings to new lows. But before that, it was the damaging NSA/Snowden leaks. Before that, it was the IRS-Benghazi-leak stories (which have definitely lost their punch since the summer). And before that, it was the failure to get gun-control through the U.S. Senate.” 

Not much for the highlight reel there.

And Politico has this telling quote from GOP strategist Alex Castellanos about the impact on Hillary:

“Hillary Clinton is the life raft on Obama’s sinking ship: Obama’s troops would be a lot less likely to abandon ship if she wasn’t around. Hillary has to separate from Obama to win the general election but has to hug him close to win the nomination. If she leaves any room in the primaries between Obama and her own candidacy, she creates an opening for Elizabeth Warren. It’s going to be a tough call to figure out how close to hug the leper.”

The leper??

So according to this admittedly partisan analysis, the prospect of Hillary winning in 2016 is helping Barack in 2013 because she’s his former secretary of State.

But is it helping Hillary? Another Politico piece—this one about Chuck Hagel—contains this revealing comment from a former Bill Clinton defense official who recently turned down a Pentagon job:

“To some extent you are seeing the Clinton effect. Why take the risks of working in a second Obama administration, when you can make $300,000 in the private sector and then go work for Hillary?”

Because she might not win? Besides, Obama still has three years to go. And National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who has been harping on Obama’s lack of leadership, says:

“President Obama needs to fire himself. Not literally, of course, but practically: He needs to shake up his team so thoroughly that the new blood imposes change on how he manages the federal bureaucracy and leads.

“A series of self-inflicted wounds during his fifth year in office, capped by the botched launch of the Affordable Care Act, have Americans questioning the president's competence and credibility.”

We’ll give the final word to First Read, with its inevitable Chuck Todd college football reference:

“But here’s the thing about politics: It can change in the blink of an eye. Who’s up can go down; who’s down can go up. And as we found out on Saturday, someone can run back a missed field goal kick 108 yards for an improbable come-from-behind victory.”

If the odds of the president bouncing back are the same as that crazy play that won Auburn the game, he’s in trouble.

The Woman Behind the Breast Photo

The New York Times’ decision to illustrate a story about breast cancer in Israel with a front-page photo of a victim’s breasts, with a partially exposed nipple, has kicked up quite a debate. I said on “Media Buzz” that I thought the picture went too far and seemed a provocative departure for the Gray Lady.

Now the unnamed 28-year-old has put out a statement, carried by Public Editor Margaret Sullivan:

“When I first saw the photo I did not find it either provocative or inappropriate. I thought it was powerful and told my story – I am a proud, young Jewish woman who had breast cancer, and I have a scar that proves it.

“I am not ashamed or embarrassed by the scar. Most of my breast was not exposed and the small part that was does not make the picture ‘cheap.’ I think it’s very artistic.

“I didn’t expect such controversy around the photo – but I’m glad the photo caused an impact since I believe that there should be more awareness about breast cancer, genetic testing, the conflict of ‘what to do’ with a positive result, etc.

“I agreed to publish the photo since I wanted to raise awareness, but I decided to leave my identity unknown because I didn’t want to become famous because I had cancer. The cancer I fought this past year is a part of me, but it’s not who I am. It’s not me. In addition, this photo was taken spontaneously and I didn’t consult my close family beforehand, so I preferred to stay unknown.

“In response to some readers’ comment on the tattoo I have on my body, I come from a family of Holocaust survivors.” 

Whatever the journalistic propriety of the decision, I’m glad to get the perspective of the woman involved.

Booker Bashful?

This made me laugh.

“Cory Booker Shuns Spotlight,” blares the Politico headline.

And what is the lead anecdote showing that after one entire month in office, the New Jersey senator is keeping a low profile?

After coming off the floor on the vote to change the filibuster rule, he blew off a Politico reporter: “I got a lot of thoughts, but I’m not going to share them right now.”

I mean, how dare he? 

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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.