In one of the more ironic speeches of his presidency, Barack Obama lectured the media on Monday for their irresponsibility in covering the 2016 elections. Appearing at the Toner Prize Ceremony at Syracuse University, Obama decided to teach the assembled journalists how to better perform their work.
“A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened, ” Obama said. “It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.”
Obama didn’t specifically call Trump out by name, but he hardly needed to. There’s been only one candidate this year to receive billions in free media.
“Without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word,” Obama continued. “When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.”
This is not the first time that Obama has turned his ire on the press, but he certainly picks some interesting occasions to indulge in this criticism. He slammed the media for drumming up fear of Islamic terrorism, but he never had anything to say about the astoundingly-biased coverage of Ferguson. He has plenty to say about how journalists interview Trump, but he’s never complained about the adoring way the media treated him in 2008, has he?
“There’s a man lecturing the media on how to do their business,” said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Tuesday. “The man who has not sat down for an extended interview with the Washington Post in seven and a half years, and yet gladly submits himself to being interviewed by YouTube stars who sit in bathtubs with milk and Fruit Loops.”
But that’s only half of it. Yes, this administration is, by all accounts, one of the most secretive in history. Yes, many big names in journalism have accused Obama of betraying his promise of transparency. It’s all on record, and it’s all relevant.
But even if that wasn’t the case, where is Obama seeing all of this passive Trump coverage? There’s no argument that the networks have spent an unprecedented amount of airtime on the Republican frontrunner, but that coverage is decidedly one-sided. In an era where it was already hard to tell the difference between news and opinion on television, Trump’s candidacy has obliterated the thin line between them. Is the media responsible in some way for Trump’s popularity? Maybe. But they are equally responsible for promoting a narrative that has led millions of Americans to view him as a racist, sexist threat to democracy.
If Obama wants to criticize the American media, he should admit that Trump-a-Thon 2016 is only one small part of a much larger problem. A problem that, 99% of the time, favors his party. But of course, he would never admit that.