By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
12:02 PM EDT, May 15, 2012
Readers of this blog know I have been grinding my teeth for years over President Obama's masterful manipulation of TV. It's not about Obama, it's about the press looking the other way, rolling over and refusing to critique and deconstruct the way Team Obama uses the media and the media allows themselves to be used.
And so, I sat down to watch him on"The View" Tuesday loaded for bear after hearing the disingenuous press bashing he did in his commencement address at Barnard Monday. How dare he blame the nation's lack of faith in institutions on the media when it is politcians like him who get elected promising to rein in the undue influence of lobbyists in Washington, and then we find out he has packed his administration with them.
But, you know what? In the language of show biz, President Obama absolutely killed Tuesday on "The View." By the time he started talking about the ways in which the legislation known as Title IX helps empower girls by giving them the opportunity to learn confidence and teamwork through sports, I literally put down my notebook, got up from my chair and applauded the TV screen. (Bugsy, the dog, who was watching with me at home, thought I had lost my mind.)
But give credit where credit is due. All praise to Obama, he shot the lights out Tuesday on "The View," and the audience and hosts couldn't get enough. Poor Mitt Romney. Poor, poor, media-challenged Mitt. Yes, he can buy big, slick, wonderfully-produced attack ads with all the money in the universe. But he can't do a star turn like this.
At first, I had planned to end my review by snarkily wondering when Barbara Walters was going to have Romney on -- and asking if she or the producers could tell me when that might be. But after seeing Obama's latest star turn with the ladies Tuesday, urging Romney to do "The View" would be like leading a large, sick animal to the stockyards in Chicago.
With Romney's stiff TV persona and somewhat dismissive mien, the audience might be booing by the first commercial break -- especially if Sherri Shepherd, Joy Behar or Whoopi Gooldberg got to the dog-on-the-roof-of-the-car or bully-boy-of-Cranbook narratives that are out there. I am sure both accounts are being read by many women not just as bad behavior, but bad MALE behavior. Good luck telling this crew you don't remember, Mitt, and that you are kind of sorry if you offended anyone while just having some good schoolboy hijinks in the halls of privilege.
I would like to say that the ladies of "The View" served up puffball questions to Obama allowing him to look so good. But that is not what happened. The hosts asked good questions. Walters, Goldberg and Elizabeth Hasslebeck even asked pointed, if not tough, ones.
Walters opened with a series of questions regarding Obama's annoucement made last week in an ABC interview that he supported same-sex marriage. The tough questions she asked focused on whether he was going to try and do anything about the federal regulations that "impinge" on the spirit of same-sex marriage by denying Social Security benefits to spouses and the filing of joint IRS returns. Excellent questions since they don't allow Obama the dodge of saying he's for same-sex marriage, but the it's up to the states to sort it out.
And what did Obama do? What Obama almost always does when faced with such a question, he started moving his lips and creating all sorts of misdirection without really answering.
As he did in the ABC interview, he talked about the gay "friends" he has and how getting to know them brought him to this moment of conscience. It all sounded principled and high-minded. But, let me repeat, he said nothing about what he was going to do at the federal level except continue to tell what he referred to as "my Justice Department" essentially not to enforce laws that discrimate against same-sex couples. It's a good thing Lyndon Johnson and not Barack Obama was president in the 1960s when the passage of civil rights legislation became a possibility.
And that's the dance that was done through most of the hour. The host would ask a tough question, Obama would Fred Astaire his way around it with all kinds of lovely rhetoric, and the host would move on or let a colleague ask her question.
That was the journalistic sin of the hosts on "The View" Tuesday: They did not press with pointed follow-ups. But come on, this is weekday morning TV, and the audience was screaming like George Clooney walked on the set when Obama came through the curtains.
I give Hasslebeck credit for trying to remind the president of what he told Matt Lauer about not deserving a second term if the nation is still in the kind of economic misery at the end of his first four years that we indeed are. Instead of answering that one, by the way, Obama talked about how we would have been in the Second Great Depression if he hadn't acted as he did blah, blah, blah.
And on it went: The-Republicans-in-Congress-are-the-party-of-no and yet, look-at-all-the-gains-we-have-made, and hey-there-is-still-much-work-ahead-but yes-we-can-if-we-believe.
Enough, I'm getting crazy again about how the media get hopelessly played by Team Obama -- and how they seems to love it, even the savviest politicos in Washington. If I keep this up, the next 50 posts will be on Team Obama playing the media, and Bugsy will be my last regular reader.
But I do have to mention the president's greatest triumph on the show: The way he aced the "Pop Culture Quiz" the ladies gave him in the last segment. He knew without even thinking which Kardashian married and was then divorced before you could say, "Reality-TV-lies." He could instantly name three of the super heroes in "The Avengers" movie, because, he said, he had just seen movie. And, of course, he knew which sitcom featured a gay couple. And not only did he know it was "Modern Family," he had an amusing anecdote from the last visit to the White House by the cast and producers.
Smooth and pop-culture-TV cool.
Poor Mitt. Poor, poor, media-and-memory challenged Mitt.
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