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Posts Tagged ‘Obama

Obama Sidesteps Sestak and Birnbaum Questions: Is This Change We Voted For?

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Putting aside the legal issues, which I know nothing about as I am not a lawyer, there is an issue surrounding today’s answers by President Barack Obama at his first press conference in 10 months.

That is the president’s campaign pledge to change in the way Washington operates.

First up is President Obama’s response to Rep. Joe Sestak’s claim that he was offered a job by the administration to drop out of his primary battle with Sen. Arlen Specter. If the White House never made such an offer, Obama would have told reporters today that “no offer was every made Rep. Sestak, and unless the congressman can verify his claim somehow, I am confident that no crime was committed.”

Instead, we got what what was basically, “Let me get back to you on that one.” That signifies that the administration and Sestak campaign lawyers are busy crafting some kind of unified response to this mess. In addition, it signifies that something was indeed communicated to the congressman early on about a job in the administration.

That’s politics as usual in Washington. It’s dirty, and it’s winner-takes-all. It’s exactly that type of behavior that has led most Americans to despise Congress and the Washington elite. This is the type of activity the majority of Americans voted to reject in 2008. Obama brought in voters who normally do not cast ballots for Democrats, or even vote at all, on the premise of changing Washington’s business-as-usual atmosphere. This makes it look like the administration has failed miserably.

He also said he did not know if Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned or was fired as director of Minerals Management Services, the agency that has a major role in managing the federal government’s response to the Gulf oil tragedy. Yet he repeatedly said he was on top of the situation and that he was in charge.

How the heck can that happen? How can the guy in charge look so blind-sided?

Birnbaum was on the short rope for a week. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as recently as last week indicated that he was going to shake up the agency. Stephen Power of The Wall Street Journal wrote today after the press conference:

… he was breaking up the agency and dividing its duties across three new offices within the Interior Department. Ms. Birnbaum didn’t attend the announcement, and Mr. Salazar was noncommittal when asked what role she would have at the department going forward.

“Part of the reason I hired her is because she had no connection to industry,” Mr. Salazar said at the time. He added that she had brought “a fresh perspective” to the agency, but when asked what role she would have the department, he said only that “we’ll see.”

Ms. Birnbaum’s departure from the MMS comes as the agency is under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom have complained that her agency was too lax in setting and enforcing safety regulations on offshore oil and gas companies. A Wall Street Journal article earlier this month detailed how the agency had often deferred to the industry on decisions about what sorts of technologies or practices should be implemented to improve safety.

If the president is in charge and he’s on top of the situation, why didn’t anyone at Interior think about informing him of such a major move, and whether she was fired or resign? They had plenty of time, the press conference was after noon and the termination was in the morning.

The only two things on the president’s public schedule this morning were photo ops with the Duke basketball team, and with Bill Clinton and the U.S. World Cup Soccer team. Is basketball and soccer so important that he could not be interrupted for such a major change in the leadership of the federal response to the oil leak? Could no aide pull him aside for 15 minutes and tell him, “Mr. President, before you meet the press on national TV today on the oil spill, you might want to know that …”

Either the president is lying when he said the oil spill is the No. 1 focus of his administration, or his aides are really struggling with priorities. Either way, it certainly didn’t look like he was the guy in charge today.

And finally, after chastising the press for involving his family in politics during the campaign, he sure didn’t mind using his daughter today to try to convey how important this issue is to him. It seems OK to involve his daughters when he thinks it would benefit him politically.

Yes, today’s press conference was CYA all the way … Washington as usual.


Written by newscycle

May 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Birnbaum, BP, Obama, Sestak, Uncategorized

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WaPo: For Obama, a changed tone in presidential humor

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Paul Farhi of the Washington Post had a great insight on last night’s annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in that President Obama, for the second year in a row, would not target himself as a butt of his own jokes. Other presidents have often used the event to diffuse ongoing political tensions.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute standup routine. (The jokes were unofficially credited Sunday to Axelrod, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor.)


Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

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May 2, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Obama Offers Condolences to CBS’ Reid

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CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid’s father past away just as Reid went overseas to cover President Barack Obama at the G-20 summit. He had wanted to return home, but family members urged him to stay as that was what his father’s would have wanted. Obama offered his condolences, as we do too.

Written by newscycle

April 3, 2009 at 9:41 am

Posted in CBS, Chip Reid, Obama, Uncategorized

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Obama’s Press Conferences: Mores Show, Less Transparency

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President Obama faces journalists, at least the ones he preselects.

President Obama faces journalists, at least the ones he preselects.

President Barack Obama has had two press conferences so far, and both of them were more of an exercise in public relations than they were a demonstration of a free and aggressive press seeking answers to tough questions from the leader of the free world.

As a campaigner, then-Sen. Barack Obama was a master at conveying his message, one of hope for Democrats and change for everybody during the next four years. One of the cornerstones of his campaign was that he pledged to open up the White House and be a more transparent president than his predecessor. But the reality of the first two months of his administration has not borne that out.

His own web site is a head scratcher. The page that listed his transparency promises now has the message “The page you requested is not available right now.” His press office has stonewalled journalists from offering up basic information such as the president’s daily schedule and the spelling of a press officer’s name. During the first week on the job he did a walk-through of the White House press room and was stunned that reporters fired questions at him. A reporter had to audacity to ask about the deputy defense secretary whom Obama has appointed. The appointee had lobbied for Raytheon, but Obama’ had just issued new rules against lobbyists coming to work for him. Obama responded: “I came down here to visit. I didn’t come down here — this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting you guys and shaking hands if I am going to grilled every time I come down here.”

Well, that accelerated his learning curb. Stay away from reporters who are trained to ask tough questions, and limit appearances to “web town-hall meetings” or news outlets that are either friendly or not accustomed to dealing with the president and willing to accept any condition to get an interview. This policy has been so fruitful for Obama that he is constantly avoiding White House Press Corps reporters. He originally cancelled the traditional head-of-state photo-op-and-question session when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited, only to arrange a short Oval Office opportunity when Brown requested it. Recently he was given a “Newsmaker of the Year Award” by a newspaper association during a White House ceremony that was, ironically, closed off to working journalists.

It all plays into his communication strategy that was developed during the campaign: Bypass the media when you can and go straight to the public via the Internet or other methods. It worked like a charmed as he ran for president because he was not challenged on it. Candidates can do that, it’s their choice. It was brilliant, and he pulled it off flawlessly.

But presidents need to be accountable. If the last eight years taught us anything it should be that.

So the communication strategy now continues at press conferences. Reporters are preselected. Traditionally, reporters at a press conference, especially at the White House, aggressively raise their hands to be called upon. Generally they are allowed a follow-up question. These follow-ups are often tougher questions than the first because they zero in on a point that the president may have slipped up on while answering the first question.

But now as reporters are preselected, aggressive questioning is minimized. There is no need to be forceful when asking a question if you know your time will come. The questions then tend to be softer, easier for the president to handle. (Reporters with tougher questions tend to be more aggressive in getting answers, this method of lining up the questions eliminates that). Heck, if you’re not on the preselect list, your actually playing into his hands. The image of a full room of reporters is a plus, even if 90 percent of them have not business being there except to sit in a chair and stay quiet.

He also has the advantage of picking questions from reporters he knows are not going to upset his message too much. By picking B-list agencies such as cable outlets and magazines, he further increases the chances he can stay on message. In his first press conference he got a question about A-Rod for goodness’s sake. Robert Gibbs couldn’t have been more pleased.

The president promised transparency. The American public deserves transparency in a time when trillions of their money is being spent on questionable bailouts. Manipulating the press and dragging your feet on the basic release of information is not the way to go about it. It’s time Obama kept his promise and provided an open and robust opportunity to face sound, tough questions from journalists who know how to ask them.

Written by newscycle

March 27, 2009 at 7:48 am

Posted in Obama, White House Press Corps

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White House Bans Press From Award Ceremony by News Group for Obama

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See if you can discover the irony here.

President Barack Obama was scheduled receive an award for “Newsmaker of the Year” from the National Newspaper Publishers Association this afternoon. He was scheduled from the federation of black community newspapers in a ceremony at the White House.

But the press is banned from covering the event.

The president’s official schedule states:

“Later in the afternoon, the President and the First Lady will attend a reception with the National Newspaper Publisher Association in the State Dining Room, where they will be presented the Newsmaker of the Year award. This event is closed press.”

Why would any news organization even participate in a ceremony that bars the press? So much for transparency. Maybe there is a reason?

Well, there appears to be a quid pro quo involved. FOX News is reporting that Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, has told it that Obama’s reception is a “special access” event that the representatives of African-American community newspapers will cover as participants, and as such is not open to daily White House reporters.

The trouble with that is the normal journalistic standard would be that participants not cover themselves in any kind of events. That’s what public relations directors are for.

Stories of the event, Earnest told FOX, will be published in African-American community newspapers across the country and in that sense the event will be “covered.”

Well, covered by participants, who have an interest in positive coverage. Why not skip the middle man and have Robert Gibbs write the copy?

Earnest also said the White House says the National Newspaper Publishers Association is giving the award to the president and is therefore being given its own event because of its historical focus on African-American issues.

For its part, the National Newspaper Publishers Association has not commented on its lack of knowledge of how a news organization is supposed to operate. It’s bad enough when corporations and government hide behind close doors, it’s worse when the very groups that are entrusted to advocate on behalf of the public for more transparency participate in such antics.

I would not, by the way, expect much concern from the usual mainstream media. Now, if President George Bush had received an award for “Newsmaker of the Year” from FOX News and closed off the ceremony from the White House Press Corps, I’m sure The New York Times and MSNBC would have had a field day. (Which, under that scenario, they would had been justified.)

This manipulation of the press is growing day by day at the White House. The Obama administration has a running feud with traditional news-gathering techniques. Yes, this is a small event of no great importance to many people. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of award ceremonies at the White House every year, few of which get any kind of notice. But the trend of this administration is to tightly control the message. See here, here, here and here. This is not change in Washington that benefits a democracy, and it’s a trend that needs to be reversed.

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March 20, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Obama Misstep on Leno: Mocking Special Olympics

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Jonathan Martin of Politico is reporting that while appearing on Jay Leno tonight President Barack Obama committed one of the cardinal sins in communication: making light of a disability.

Obama’s effort to mix his serious talk with more light-hearted fare was overshadowed when in an attempt to mock his own lackluster bowling skills, he said his recent 129 score in a game in the White House bowling alley was “like the Special Olympics or something.”

Ouch. Not a quote you would expect from a masterful communicator. But then again, he probably did not have a Teleprompter. Besides, 129 isn’t so bad. He isn’t earl Anthony, but how often does the guy bowl?

On other matters, Martin reports:

Asked his response when he found out about the AIG bonuses, Obama said: “‘Stunned’ is the word.”

As he has all week, the president made clear to the public that he shared their outrage and reiterated that he’d try to get the cash back.

“People just had this sense of entitlement,” he observed. “We must be the best and the brightest.”

For all the sober talk, Obama did join Leno in getting in some quips, including one line that was sure to momentarily scare his daughters.

“That was a campaign promise,” he said about the pledge he made to his daughters to buy them a dog.

“No, I’m teasing. The dog will be there shortly.”

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March 19, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Jay Leno, Obama

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Veteran Leader Angry Over Obama Plan to Force Wounded Vets to Pay for Treatment With Private Insurance

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The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization says he is “deeply disappointed and concerned” after a meeting with President Barack Obama yesterday to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs in such cases.

“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan,” said Cmdr. David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. “He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”

The commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session, said, “This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle’ given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm’s way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America’s veterans.”

Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget. The group’s early afternoon conversation at the White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the president earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Rehbein and the heads of 10 colleague organizations, read, in part, “There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran’s personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable.”

Rehbein reiterated points made last week in testimony to both House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees. It was stated then that the American Legion believes that the reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate that VA treat service-connected injuries and disabilities given that the U.S. government sends members of the armed forces into harm’s way, and not private insurance companies. The proposed requirement for these companies to reimburse the VA would not only be unfair, says the legion, but would have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families. The legion argues that, depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran’s condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health care benefits. The legion also points out that many health insurance companies require deductibles to be paid before any benefits are covered. Additionally, the legion is concerned that private insurance premiums would be elevated to cover service-connected disabled veterans and their families, especially if the veterans are self-employed or employed in small businesses unable to negotiate more favorable across-the-board insurance policy pricing. The American Legion also believes that some employers, especially small businesses, would be reluctant to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities due to the negative impact their employment might have on obtaining and financing company health care benefits.

“I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted,” said Rehbein, “is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540-million in revenue. The American Legion has long advocated for Medicare reimbursement to VA for the treatment of veterans. This, we believe, would more easily meet the President’s financial goal. We will present that idea in an anticipated conference call with … Emmanuel in the near future.

“I only hope the administration will really listen to us then. This matter has far more serious ramifications than the President is imagining,” concluded the commander.

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March 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Obama, Veterans

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