CNN op-ed questions Barack Obama’s take on the role of media in politics

There is no denying that during former President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, the vast majority of the mainstream media — CNN in particular — were overly reverential to the president to point of reducing themselves to be little more than obsequious court stenographers with nary a bad thing to say about him.

That has started to shift at least a little bit since Obama left office, as evidenced by a recent op-ed from a CNN political analyst that actually had the temerity to call out Obama for his erroneous view of how important the political discussion on social media and television truly is these days.

Obama’s two cents

While speaking at a tech-focused event in San Francisco the week prior, Obama offered up a little advice for those seeking to occupy the White House, namely that the constant political back-and-forth on social media and on television should be ignored.

“Make sure you have a team with a diversity of opinion sitting around you. The other thing that’s helpful is not watching TV or reading social media,” Obama said. “These are two things I would advise, if you’re our president, not to do.

He said “it creates a lot of noise and clouds your judgment,” noting that worrying about polls and people’s opinions had the potential to “sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way.”

Partially right

The author of the op-ed, Princeton professor and author Julian Zelizer, agreed with Obama on the first part of the point that was made about surrounding oneself with a team of advisers who had varying opinions on important matters.

Indeed, the history professor pointed to countless examples from just the past century of a president surrounding himself with a team of experts to provide educated advice and opinions on all manner of subjects, even as he noted that those advisors sometimes provided bad or mistaken advice.

Where Zelizer took issue, however, was Obama’s call for future presidents to essentially keep themselves in the dark about what was being discussed in the media, whether online or on TV, something which could actually prove “detrimental” to a president instead of being helpful.

“The problem is that politics matters even when it gets incredibly ugly and toxic. Turning on the television or scrolling through social media is not simply a distraction but also a window into the current moment,” Zelizer wrote. “These mediums are central arenas in which parties conduct their battles. For better or worse, they tell us a great deal about the state of partisanship.”

Risks of turning a blind eye

As an example, Zelizer stated his belief that Obama’s disregard of social media and TV commentary caused him to miss — or at least underestimate — the rise of the conservative tea party early in his administration. That was, he argued, a development that could have arguably been better understood, if not effectively countered, simply by observing what was being said on Fox News and other conservative media outlets and social media platforms at the time.

“The winds of politics — whether it’s the way parties frame critical issues or the strategies used to promote or discredit presidential agendas — are relevant in policymaking, even if politicians shouldn’t have to think that way in an ideal world,” Zelizer wrote.

“Presidents and legislators who ignore television or social media do so at their own peril,” he concluded. “While Obama is right about the ideal ways presidents should make decisions, the reality is that politics in 2019 exists in a public square, where everyone has a megaphone. And the way these issues are handled on television and social media do matter very much.”

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