Press secretaries tend to be like broken clocks: They’re always going to say the same thing, and every once in a while, it happens to be the right thing. Case in point: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who early last week accused the D.C.-based media of being out of touch with the concerns and opinions of the rest of the country.
“You know,” Gibbs said, “there’s a conventional wisdom to what’s going on in America via Washington, and there’s the reality of what’s happening in America.”
The cynical interpretation of this statement would be that President Obama is merely resorting to the time-honored tradition of media bashing – his own variation of Spiro Agnew’s timeless attack on the “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Jonathan Martin, a former National Review staffer who now writes for Politico, made exactly this case a few days ago.
“Pitting Washington Insiders against Real People, as Obama and his top aides have increasingly done in recent weeks, is often a refuge for presidents who have suffered missteps or drawn critical coverage, particularly in their early weeks in office,” Martin wrote.
In this case, though, such cynicism calls to mind Harry Truman’s old retort that “I’m not giving them hell – I’m just telling the truth and they think it’s hell.” Gibbs wasn’t actually engaging in defensive spin – he was making an accurate observation that was taken as defensive spin.
Fresh evidence of this emerged on Thursday, in a new Associated Press poll. Asked to assess how much Obama had done to cooperate with Republicans in Congress, 62 percent of respondents said that he’d done “about the right amount,” while another six percent said he’d done too much. At the same time, 64 percent said that congressional Republicans had done “not enough” to cooperate with the president.
These numbers, on top of numerous recent surveys that have found remarkable durability in Obama’s popularity, seem to validate Gibbs’ main point, since so much air time has been handed over this past month to the congressional G.O.P.’s concerted assault on Obama’s stimulus package and his governing style. And, all too often, D.C.-based news outlets, particularly the national cable networks, have used the G.O.P. attacks to frame their stories about Obama’s presidency, highlighting the partisan rancor in the House and Senate and the supposed end of Obama’s honeymoon.
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