Obama and the Media

OBAMA AND THE MEDIA....Via Mark Schmitt, John McQuaid offers this take on Barack Obama's view of the media:

Like Bush, Obama appears to view the media agenda in fundamental conflict with his own. But now, the perceived difference isn't ideological. It's programmatic. Obama (correctly, I think) sees the press representing two things that are clear obstacles to his ambitious plans: official Washington and a trivia-obsessed media culture.

First, the official Washington view [....]

Second, the media culture: The cable maw must be fed with transient panics. Feeding frenzies and micro-scandals dominate. They fuel the chat shows, opinion columns and blogs. These faux crises and dramas, which usually pass with little consequence, can knock a presidential agenda off-stride or even destroy it.

The official Washington view McQuaid talks about is the Broderesque centrism that dominates A-list punditry. This gets a ton of attention in the blogosphere, but I elided that passage because it strikes me as the less important of the two things McQuaid talks about. After all, there always has been and always will be a mainstream pull in any political culture, and I frankly doubt that Obama sees this as something worth banging his head against. It's like fighting the tide.

The trivia-obsessed culture of the contemporary media, however, is a different story. This is the kind of thing that Bob Somerby spends most of his time railing against, and it strikes me as much the more important of the two — partly because it's more corrosive and partly because it's not as inevitable. Gossip and chatter have always been part of politics, of course, but over the past decade or two, at the same time that gossip has practically taken over political journalism, it's gotten so inane that it's hard to tell where Access Hollywood ends and Hardball begins. It's nearly impossible to turn on a talk show on any of the cable nets these days and hear anything that's even remotely enlightening.

And I'll bet McQuaid is right: it probably bugs the hell out of a guy like Obama who takes politics and policy seriously. When he said in his inaugural address that "the time has come to set aside childish things," I wouldn't be surprised if he was addressing the media directly.

So how does he work to change things? McQuaid warns that tightly controlling media access the way George Bush did isn't the answer, and I agree. Instead, I'd say that he should send a consistent message about the value of serious journalism by providing the best access to the most serious journalists. Not the ones who are the most famous, or have the biggest audiences, or who agree with him the most often, but the ones who have written or aired the sharpest, liveliest, most substantive, most penetrating critiques of what he and his administration are doing. He should spar with them, he should engage with them, he should take their ideas seriously. Eventually, others will start to get the message: if you want to get presidential attention, you need to say something smart. It's too late to for this to have any effect on media buffoons like Maureen Dowd or Chris Matthews, but you never know. It might encourage a few of the others to grow up. It's worth a try, anyway.

He's disputing Al Franken's victory in Minnesota, but here's a pretty good sign he's just going through the motions: he's taken another job.

Just swear in Senator Al, already!

Dick Cheney is ticked at former president Bush for not pardoning Scooter Libby, who was Cheney's right-hand man for many years. He tells the Weekly Standard:

"Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."

Cheney was marginalized on a number of topics late in the Bush years. They may not have been friendly for some time...

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In the Oval Office, surrounded by military officers and with Vice President Biden at his side, President Obama this morning signed several executive orders effectively reversing some of the most controversial Bush administration policies propagated during its "war on terrorism." (Even that well-worn phrase was absent from the executive orders and, in a welcome change, has yet to be uttered by the new president...though White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today denied to Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief David Corn that the omission reflects an official change in rhetoric.)

Obama signed three executive orders, (1) mandating that Guantanamo be closed within one year; (2) ordering that all interrogations be conducted in accordance with the Army Field Manual, even those conducted by the CIA, which had previously enjoyed greater latitude to pursue "harsh interrogation tactics" during the Bush years; and (3) establishing a special inter-agency task force to "provide me with information in terms of how we are able to deal with the disposition of some of the detainees that may be currently at Guantanamo that we cannot transfer to other countries," Obama said at the signing ceremony. The new president also signed a memorandum asking that the Supreme Court delay proceedings related to detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal US resident, until the administration has time to review his case.

Before entering the Oval Office for the signing ceremony, Obama and Biden met in the Roosevelt Room with several retired military leaders, who had advised the administration on how to deal with the contentious issues covered in today's executive orders. Former Army Major General Paul Eaton and retired Navy admirals John Hutson and Lee Gunn spoke in a conference call this afternoon about their encounter with the new president and shared their thoughts on the impact of today's event. They were joined by Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First, which organized the call.

Has President Barack Obama ended the "war on terror"?

On his second day in office, he signed an executive order that would prevent any officer of the US government from engaging in torture. As he placed his name on the order--keeping a prominent campaign promise--he declared that this move "effectively ensures that anyone detained by the United States for now" will be interrogated in a fashion consistent with the Army field manual, which notes that the use of force, threats, or inhumane treatment is prohibited by law. "We can abide by a rule that says we don't torture," Obama maintained. In other words, good-bye to waterboarding.

Obama signed the order in the Oval Office, surrounded by a group of retired generals and flag officers who had advocated a torture ban. It was yet another historic moment in a series of such moments this week. Obama reiterated what he said during his inaugural address: that the United States need not be forced into the false choice between protecting its values and honoring its ideals.

What was intriguing was how Obama characterized the fight against terrorism. He said, "The message we are sending around the world is the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism" vigilantly, effectively, and "in a manner consistent with our values and ideals." Notably, he did not use the term "war on terror." And moments later, he proclaimed, "We intend to win this fight and we're going to win it on our terms." Again, no "war."

Is this a purposeful shift in rhetoric? Has Obama decided to drop the war on terrorism metaphor that the Bush-Cheney administration used extensively?

At Robert Gibbs' first briefing as White House press secretary on Thursday afternoon, I asked if the president had booted the war metaphor. Gibbs replied that Obama had used language that was consistent with his inaugural address. In that speech, Obama had indeed said that "our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." But he did not use the standard "war on terror" phrase. Instead he threw the word "war" against a specific target.

At the press conference, I followed up and inquired if Obama had decided not to deploy that phrase as president. "Not that I'm aware of," Gibbs answered.

De-emphasizing the war metaphor would be a significant change. But if it is a deliberate change, the White House does not want to acknowledge it.

UPDATE: Speaking at the State Department later in the day, Obama characterized the battle against terrorists as a "twilight struggle." But when listing the national security challenges the nation faces, he quickly ran through the line-up: "the war on terror, sectarian division, and the spread of deadly technology." He's obviously not allergic to the term. But it's not the description he reaches for first when he publicly discusses the matter. Not so far in his presidency.

Frozen River

FROZEN RIVER....Atrios links to a Country Fair post today that takes Courtney Hazlett to task for whining about Frozen River receiving a couple of Oscar nominations. Here's Hazlett:

In the state that Hollywood is in, I would hope that the Academy says, maybe for once we should just kind of look at what the buzz is here and what people really like, and honor filmmaking that doesn't just attract the affections of a small, elite, effete audience, and really look at what do people like to go and see.

Eh. Hazlett is an idiot. It's not as if Hollywood routinely ignores popular taste, after all, and Frozen River was only nominated in two categories (Best Original Screenplay and Best Actess).

Plus there's this: as you all know, my taste in movies is pretty thoroughly middlebrow. But Frozen River's screenplay was excellent and Melissa Leo's performance was outstanding — one of the best I've seen recently. I haven't seen all the nominated actresses, but at a minimum, Leo was better than Meryl Streep (in Doubt) and Angelina Jolie (in Changeling). She was really, really good. So go rent Frozen River when it comes out on DVD in a couple of weeks. You'll enjoy it, and you'll annoy Courtney Hazlett at the same time. It's a twofer!

CARONA WALKS (SORT OF)...."America's Sheriff" Michael Carona says it's "an absolute miracle" that he was acquitted of five out of six corruption charges on Friday. But it turns out that the criminal code has more to do with it than the redemptive power of God:

In interviews after the trial, jurors said that they believed Carona had illegally accepted cash and gifts but that they were stymied by a statute of limitations that allowed them to consider only acts committed after late October 2002. The government had failed to prove that the conspiracy it alleged among Carona and his associates had involved any overt act after that, the jurors said.

"His hand was in the cookie jar. He was just quick enough to wipe the crumbs off his hands," said juror Jerome Bell, 42, a truck driver from Anaheim.

Sometimes good timing is better than good luck. Anyway, here in The OC we prefer to look forward, not back.

Before we do anything here, I'd just like to post this video from Funny or Die comparing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to another fine Oscar favorite:

Somebody should sue. Anyway, Forrest Gump 2: Old Dude Gets Young grabbed 11 whoops, 13 nominations for this year's Oscars, beating out Slumdog Millionaire which garnered 10. Other best picture competitors include Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader. The acting nominations were a little surprising: Kate Winslet, who won Golden Globes for Revolutionary Road and The Reader, was nominated only for the latter, and in the best actress category rather than supporting; Clint Eastwood was snubbed in acting categories, as was Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins. Perhaps the most heartwarming aspect of the nominations was the poor performance of The Dark Knight, skulking away into its batcave with 8 nominations, all technical except for Heath Ledger's posthumous supporting actor nod.

After the jump: Best Animated Short Films!

Civil Liberties Watch

CIVIL LIBERTIES WATCH....Glenn Greenwald summarizes the initial 48 hours of the new administration:Barack Obama will have spent his first several days in office issuing a series of executive orders which, some quibbling and important caveats aside, meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians — everything from ordering the closing of Guantanamo to suspending military commissions to compelling CIA interrogators to adhere to the Army Field Manual to banning CIA "black sites" and, perhaps most encouragingly (in my view): severely restricting his own power and the power of former Presidents to withhold documents on the basis of secrecy, which has been the prime corrosive agent of the Bush era. As a result, establishment and right-wing figures who have been assuring everyone that Obama would scorn "the Left" (meaning: those who believe in Constitutional safeguards) and would continue most of Bush's "counter-Terrorism" policies are growing increasingly nervous about this flurry of unexpected activity.Well, look: if Glenn is happy, then I'm happy. He's a tough customer on this stuff. I hope Obama's followup is as good as his initial flurry of executive orders.

CNN's Ed Henry just asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about DOD appointee William Lynn and his apparent violation of the newly unveiled revolving door regulations. Gibbs clearly didn't want to spend a lot of time at his very first press conference on the subject. He had this to say:

The ethics and lobbying regulations "exceed what any administration has done in the history of this country."
Together, they represent "the greatest ethical standard ever."
They are "the strongest ethical and transparency guidelines that any administration has ever lived under in the history of this country."

That's all excellent, and likely true. But it doesn't explain why it took only 24 hours for an exception to the guidelines to emerge. Pressed for an answer on why Lynn was getting a pass, Gibbs said, "any standard is not perfect" and that "a waiver process that allows people to serve their country is necessary." He called Lynn "uniquely qualified" and added that President Obama believes a "limited number of waivers" should be allowed.

It is unclear what the criteria are for receiving a waiver like Lynn's, and how frequently they will be granted. If they are granted too frequently, they will render the much-heralded regulations meaningless.

Update: Democratic Senator Carl Levin is starting to ask questions about Lynn. I wonder if he is going to make it through the confirmation process. That would be a real doozy. A bunch of senators would effectively derail a appointee because he fails to meet executive branch ethical standards they would never consider applying to the legislative.