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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Pressuring the Press

In a choreographed stunt, a campaigning Bill Clinton answered MTV’s now-famous ‘boxers or briefs?’ question with a convincingly abashed ‘boxers.’ In February of last year, President Obama chose not to answer the same ‘humiliating’ question, refusing to sink to ‘that’ level. His next comment was a demonstration of the brand of professionalism he intended to bring to the campaign trail.

“But whichever one it is, I look good in them!”

One year ago last week, Candidate Obama described resuscitating Republican policy as ‘putting lipstick on a pig,’ which Republican campaign aides publicized as a sexist assault on fellow candidate Sarah Palin. Last Wednesday, President Obama referred to loudmouthed rapper Kanye West as a ‘jackass’ off the record.

These humorous remarks are refreshing after weeks of intensive political campaigning. They both attract more interest to the ‘hard’ issues at hand and inspire a sense of solidarity with the political figure involved. Unfortunately, this kind of coverage has replaced, rather than supplemented ,coverage of campaigning. Our last election was just a decision between two brand images.

The events are worth revisiting now because just this weekend, Obama admonished the media for choosing to cover events that he considered trivial. In interviews with CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and Univision about his health care reforms, the President detailed his impatience with media focus on ‘rude’ comments that didn’t reflect well on the American people. The remonstration might have been more convincing if he wasn’t maligning the very powers that brought him to power in the first place.

Which brings us to the role of the press. Far from being his exclusive campaigning tool, and despite the fact that it has been his most valuable one, the media exists to reflect and direct our attention to new events. Its content is perpetuated by our interest in it. So while it’s a good strategy to campaign for health insurance reform on television in theory, it hasn’t proven to provide good entertainment in practice because this reform is not a saleable product. Obama can choose to take our disinterest as a comment on his policy or to declare himself above it. Either way, the distinction between policy and image is new; the media was once his business model.

The tabloids covered him when he provided succinct, vital opinions on the issues of the day. What seemed like political awareness on the part of major news networks was a choice to bring the politics to the level of the gossip, rather than bring the gossip to the level of the politics.

In the typical tabloid, a picture of a celebrity is sold by the words and conjecture around it. A single picture of Britney Spears can incite rumors of both pregnancy and anorexia, depending on the journalist who is covering it.

Media is a reflection of our mindsets, just as it manipulates our mindsets. We deserve to choose what to be interested in.

As the father of two, Obama should know better than to deliver broad judgments on our behavior: while his remarks today may incite temporary shame, we’re more likely to continue tuning him out than to redirect the course of media coverage.

Media coverage of Obama’s health care plan has been vague and nebulous so far because our journalists have failed to format the information into usable news. In delivering his policies to the people, Obama hoped to cancel out this vital function of the media. This has proven foolhardy as his speeches get less navigable.

News magazines are more willing to cover Obama’s grandmothers’ end of life care than to detail his policy.

News comes in soundbytes. Not because Americans are vacuous or uneducated, but because we have to incorporate his news into the lives we’re living already.

Since his health care policies are self-destructing, since the health care debate has gone out of style and since we’re on the third generation of ‘options’ and profit prohibition, he’s demanding endless patience. Until he’s finessed his ideas down to an aphorism or two, Obama shouldn’t expect to be the center of media focus for his work-in-progress legislative style.

Are we just irretrievably shallow? No. Good government can be encapsulated in just a few words. Such a well-spoken president shouldn’t need multiple attempts to convey his policy to us; it’s an indication that the policy is the problem, not the American audience.

From business to health care to schooling, President Obama seems to want to take charge of everything. But if his policies continue to apologize for, villify and lecture the American people without producing usable results, he may have been better situated on a preacher’s pulpit than taking charge of our country.

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