The Reactionary President

John Hanlon

6/14/2010 11:05:00 PM - John Hanlon

“Media criticism gets under this president’s skin and he lets it show more than any president we’ve seen in a long time.”
–Chuck Todd (6/13/2010) 

Yesterday, during an enlightening roundtable on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, NBC's Chuck Todd stated the above quote in regards to the president’s response to Matt Lauer’s recent questions about the president's reaction to the BP oil spill. That was the response where Obama noted that he wanted to “know whose ass to kick”. In the roundtable, Todd noted that Obama’s response to Lauer about the government’s response did seem to be a direct rebuttal to criticism that he has recently received from the media.

During the 2008 campaign, the media was often overtly “friendly” towards Obama and that “friendliness” extended into Obama’s early time in the White House. It now seems like the media has turned aggressively against Obama for his failure to respond effectively to the BP oil crisis. A recent Washington Post article entitled “Why We’ll Miss Helen Thomas” noted that the press corps has been tougher lately in asking questions about the spill, a welcome development for those who have watched the White House avoid having to answer difficult questions in the past. The media is now questioning Obama on a more routine basis and President Obama seems to be taking it roughly and reacting to it aggressively.

The rebuttal to Lauer's question about "kicking butt" that Todd talked about was not the only recent time when Obama seemed to be directly making decisions as a reaction to criticism. As Meredith Jessup noted in a blog post Thursday night, the president only recently decided to meet with BP executives after the president's press secretary was hammered with questions on that issue. "After defending for days President Obama's decision not to speak directly with BP chief executive Tony Hayward," a recent Washington Post story began, "the White House has now invited -- or rather summoned -- senior executives from the oil giant to Washington." This, again, seems to be the Obama administration making decisions about handling the oil spill in a reactionary way. This meeting should have been held a long time ago right after the damage of the oil spill became evident, not over 50 days after it happened.

The president is set to give a speech to the nation tomorrow night about the BP oil spill. My hope is that he uses the opportunity of the address to be proactive in managing the crisis and less reactive. Making decisions to quell media criticism is not enough. The president needs to show that he is charge of the situation and working effectively to manage the crisis without coming across as defensive as he has in the past. We need a proactive president, not a reactive one and one who can take criticism in stride.