David Zurawik

Why Obama should have come to Baltimore, not David Letterman's couch

Am I the only person who thinks there is something wrong with President Obama going on David Letterman Monday to talk about the riots in Baltimore, but not coming to the city less than 50 miles away from the White House one day last week?

I vowed I was going to let it rest after I quoted NBC's Chuck Todd last week raising the issue of Obama not coming here to address what's been happening in America with unarmed black men dying while being arrested or in police custody after arrest.


But last night on Letterman, Obama sanctimoniously said, "How can we send a message to young people of color and minorities, particularly young men, saying, 'Your lives matter. We do care about you'?"

You know how you could have done that, Mr. President? By coming to Baltimore and letting the people of West Baltimore and the other citizens here see you in the flesh. If the streets could not be secured, then you could have done it at City Hall.  And if we could not have secured City Hall, then heaven help us all.


Imagine a sea of residents standing in the sun to see their president actually show them with his presence – instead of only telling them on TV – that he cares about them and that he feels their pain.

The president could have not only personally delivered that kind of message to the people of West Baltimore, he could have also thanked the firefighters who risked their lives April 27 to limit the 144 car fires and 15 structural fires that burned.

He could have also seen, by flying over the city, how disingenuous it was of him to say in a White House press conference that TV news had only one fire on the night of the riots that it kept showing over and over to give the appearance of more.

Don't tell me about the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, coming to town today more than a week after the rioting. It's not the same, is it? It's pebbles and boulders – if even that – and way more than a day late.

Letterman is a make-believe entertainment forum where people fake nice with each other and shill for their latest film, TV show or political agenda. Baltimore City Hall and the streets of Baltimore are real-life settings where people actually live their lives or come to interact with their elected leaders.

I wish our president spent less time in the escapist, showbiz TV world of David Letterman and more time in the far less glamorous, gritty places like Baltimore where we live our real lives.

As a TV critic, I love the way the medium has come to dominate our politics. More for me on my beat. But as a citizen, I think the fact that we've become a TV culture is a disaster.

I wish our leaders would govern with an eye to our best interests and not their best camera side.