Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 22, 2009
POLITICS: Our Incurious, Insular President

If we were told one thing by the media from the 2008 campaign, it's that telling Katie Couric you do not read a lot of newspapers is an absolute disqualifier for the presidency. (This is aside from how the media reacted to President Bush saying he didn't pay much attention to the newspapers). So, when Couric confronted President Obama with criticisms in an uncharacteristically O-negative David Brooks column, what was his response? In the President's own words:

Katie Couric: President Obama, there was a stinging column in the New York Times today written by David Brooks. He says Democrats are losing touch with America because, quote, "The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes." He goes on to say that you have, basically, been co-opted by Nancy Pelosi. And you've differed to the, what he calls, old bulls on Capitol Hill.

President Obama: This was a really aggressive-[laughter]

Katie Couric: On issue after issue. [laughter] There was a pretty…

President Obama: Are we going to read the whole column here? [laughter]

Katie Couric: No, I'm not going to read - I'm not going to put you through that. But it was it was a tough column. And I'm just curious, A, have you read it? And, B, what's your response?

President Obama: I, you know, I don't spend a lot of time reading columns, Katie. The fact is that I am confident in the work that we're doing.

Gee, could it be that chief executives actually have important jobs to do that preclude them from spending a lot of time reading newspapers? (Judging from circulation numbers these days, they're not the only ones).

Obama's supporters who made a big deal out of Bush and Palin saying basically the same thing owe some serious apologies. But of course, they were just point-scoring; nobody apologizes for doing that.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (41) | TrackBack (0)

Nice way to spin this one. But, here is the problem with your twisted holier than thou, I am always right backwards logic. You have mixed in opinion pieces in newspaper to actual articles about NEWS. A common rule for any public figure is not to read opinion pieces for the simple fact if you read only the praise you lose touch if you read to much that criticize you think everyone is out to get you.
As an example one thing the Queen of your party Palin did was listen to talk radio and she came to the conclusion everyone was out to get her.
Crank, where has your fastball gone? Then again you only link to opinion pieces that agree with your line of thinking. So, maybe you have lost sight of the fact opinion is not news.

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 10:26 AM

Um, Crank, there is more content in newspapers than "columns." The President said he doesn't spend a lot of time reading columns. That statement tells you nothing about how much time he does or desn't read newspapers. (For your firm's sake, I hope you show more searching analysis of words used when, for example, examing a witness.)

Moreover, the Couric questions to Princess Sarah were not about just newspapers; they were more open-ended and spoke to reading materials generally.

Finally, no one in their right mind thinks that Palin and W together were as curious and knowledgable as President Obama.

Really, now, is this the best you've got?

Posted by: Magrooder at July 22, 2009 10:28 AM

There's actually far *less* reason for presidents (or governors) to read newspapers for the news, since they frequently have access to better sources of information than the newspapers do.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 10:29 AM

Wow Crank,

Javaman pretty much nailed you on this one. Equating columnists with actual news is facially absurd and further proof of how much you have lost your perspective since it became clear Obama was going to be elected.

I really think you should stick to baseball for a while. This can't be good for your health.

Posted by: Jim at July 22, 2009 10:31 AM

Add me into the mix of wondering why you are equating news with opinion. Then again, I'm one of those people who think the opinion pages are useless more often than not. And the cable news channels are cluttered with more of the same than actual news.
You know why I'm not curious about opinions? President from party X does an action. Supporters who follow X largely support it, supporters from party Y largely do not - regardless of how well facts support it.

We could go farther and be shocked that he hadn't read the opinion column the very same day it came out (gasp!), but we can leave it there.

"There's actually far *less* reason for presidents "
True - but, the information is selected for them. By reading what is presented for everyone they can escape their bubble. That is part of why it mattered to some people.

Posted by: Dave at July 22, 2009 10:44 AM

So politicians should not read the newspaper for local human interest stories? Just think not reading the newspapers we would have never learned of the horrible conditions at Walter Reed. That part is call investigative journalism. But since the President and Governors have better sources how did that slip beneath the radar?

How soon before you become a Birther?

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 10:45 AM

javaman, the President not reading the newspaper does not equal nobody in his Administration reading the newspaper.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 10:59 AM

I didn't read the Brooks column, only what you've reproduced of it here via Couric. What I find interesting is a New York Times columnist accusing democracts as being out of touch with the real, moderate America because the democracts "insular liberals from big cities and the coasts." This is interesting for two reasons. First, most the population of this country is concentrated in the "big cities and the coasts," do democrat or republican, he who is in touch with that population is in touch with America.

Second, consider the source. I don't know anything about Brooks, his background, or personal life, but a New York Times reporter suffers from precisely the same infirmities that he accuses the democrats of-being from the "big cities and the coasts." This is pure speculation, but my guess is that most reporters, particularly at major newspapers, don't venture out of the big cities and the coasts too often. And it's not like a N.Y. Times reporter is part of the same socioeconomic class that he seems to be accusing the democrats of being out of touch with.

One semi-related point. I think it may be more important for politicians, as political figures, to read the opinion pieces than the factual ones. As Crank said, it may be that politicians have better access to information than the rest of us and the factual stories are therefore less important. Despite what I said above, however, opinion pieces theoretically give the pulse of the nation. Particularly for a politician like Obama who has asserted over and over a bipartisan stance, it's quite important to know the opposition. There could very well be valid criticism and praise out there. It's always good to know what you're doing well and what you're doing poorly. At the very least, it seems as though it would be helpful in earning cooperation and trust with the opposition. And for full disclosure, I am an Obama supporter.

Posted by: Rich at July 22, 2009 11:05 AM

If you're suggesting that Brooks is a cloistered, insular big-city elitist, well, yes, and the earth is round. His column, which I should have linked to, was a good one and unusual because he's been such an Obama sycophant.

No, you cannot get a governing majority in this country solely from large, ultra-liberal coastal cities. I think it was Brooks who pointed out that Sarah Palin is something like twice as popular with the public as Nancy Pelosi. If you design an agenda that wins elections only where the majority of people would support Pelosi, you are going to lose a lot of support in places like Indiana and North Carolina where faux-moderate Democrats have been winning lately, and where Obama got elected with the help of his pledges to not raise taxes and make a net reduction in federal spending.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 11:10 AM

To keep this argument simple. As a baseball geek you know every manager will say I do not read the sports page. So by your logic any manager that will state he does not read the sports page is not a very good manager. You then ask why and he will explain, if the beat writers and columnist like my strategy they praise me if they don't like the moves I made they will rip me. You can not lead or govern anything reading opinion pieces b/c they are fundamentally flawed and basis. On a side not did you not constantly harp on the Clinton administration for governing by opinion polls?

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 11:36 AM

javaman, my point is, actually, that this entire line of criticism has always been ridiculous, and I'm enjoying you guys trying to split hairs after 8 years of bug-eyed hyperventilation about it.

Presidents need to be informed about the facts, and they do need to be informed as well about constructive criticism. They don't need to read newspapers to do either of those. Some of us understood that all along. It's the people who thought Obama was some precious, wonderful thing because he reads more newspapers than Bush or Palin who have the explaining to do.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 11:42 AM

This is, by the way, an ongoing theme, as one after another of the arguments thrown at Bush in particular have come back to bite Obama, as he

-Issues presidential signing statements disavowing parts of legislation
-Buries unfriendly scientific reports
-Asserts his authority to detain enemy combatants indefinitely
-Crafts legislative deals in closed meetings with industry lobbies
-Makes embarrassing verbal miscues
-Irritates important allies


If your side had displayed a little maturity and perspective the last 8 years, it would not be so embarrassing to be on the receiving end of so many of these things.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 11:47 AM

Crank, you said none of those ever happen or matter every time. Now they matter? So, they did happen?????
Who's words are biting which ass now????
Also, why are you changing subjects from your original post? Facts and logic proved the post to be fundamentally flawed or just plain wrong?

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 11:50 AM

Come on guys, split some more hairs, move the goalposts again! You can do this!

It only appears that Crank has you cold. Surely you can find, somewhere in the circles you travel in, some half-ass rebuttal, some minor "fict" that you can point to as making "all the difference".

I know things look grim right now, but I have faith in you. Go forth and dig up those left-wing talking points!

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 22, 2009 11:52 AM

In point of fact, several of the things he's doing don't bother me in the slightest, as far as the signing statements and detention issues. It's just funny to watch him do them. It's called growing up and realizing what the President's job is.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 11:58 AM

Why are you changing subjects. As most posters here pointed out a newspaper column is not the same as news. The more you distant yourself from the original flawed point of this blog post the more you prove our point.
Sponge, please explain how pointing out to the esteemed Crank an Opinion Column is not news is splitting hairs?

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 12:19 PM

I didn't mean to suggest that you could get a governing majority solely from the big cities and coasts, but simply wanted to point out that the argument that democrats are not in touch with America because they're stuck in the big cities and coasts is a little disengenuous, as the majority of America remains in the big cities in coasts.

Moreover, it's interesting to look at the reasons you couldn't get a governing majority by appealing solely to the coasts and big cities. There's two reasons, really. One is that even if you appeal to them, you still need to get close to 100% of the vote in those areas. That's just impossible. Inevitably you won't appeal to everyone there. Second, and more interesting in my opinion, is the electoral college, which quite obviously frustrates a pure majority rule system. I'm not pointing this out to debate its merits, but really only to provide one reason why appealing just to the coasts and big cities won't get you a governing coalition, though the majority of the population may be concentrated in those areas.

Posted by: Rich at July 22, 2009 12:40 PM

javaman, if you recall the knock on Bush in particular was that the disinterest in reading newspapers somehow showed that he was insulating himself from criticism. If you bought that line of argument and thought it important, you have to be embarrassed when Obama says he doesn't read the newspaper columnists criticizing him.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 12:43 PM

No, Crank. It's called "2 wrongs don't make a right".

Posted by: Berto at July 22, 2009 12:43 PM

So in other words Berto, Obama and Bush are both wrong. Correct?

Posted by: Normie15 at July 22, 2009 12:54 PM

No no no. Bush took pride in not reading books, or reading the entire newspaper. Going to the original point of contention with your post. Any leader of anything will tell you you can not lead or govern effectively by reading opinion. Now if one was to read the paper reading the news, investigative pieces and human interest stories that is different and skip over the bias of the opinion columns you can not fault them.
One of the first lesson in any leadership school is as follows, you are not as bad as your critics say or as good as the people who praise you. Another one is you have to be intellectually curious and reflective in your quest to make the best decision. Bush was criticized for bragging about the fact he did not need reflection of intellectual curiosity while leading.

Glad to see you came back on topic.

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 1:01 PM

So Katie Couric could have asked "Why have you ceded your agenda to Congress" and instead she asked "Did you read what David Brooks said about you?"

That's not journalism. That's cocktail party chit chat.

Posted by: Henry at July 22, 2009 1:33 PM

Let me add that if our President isn't insular, the news media is trying its best to make him so.

Posted by: Henry at July 22, 2009 1:34 PM

Presidential reading lists, though I doubt either one actually has read most of the books from cover to cover. The only book they have in common is Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." I think if people compare the lists they'll find that they probably voted for the man who shares their interests.



Posted by: George at July 22, 2009 1:47 PM

"javaman, if you recall the knock on Bush in particular was that the disinterest in reading newspapers somehow showed that he was insulating himself from criticism."
I'm pretty sure the actual talking points always included the word "incurious", often put forth in NEWS stories, which further illustrated how today's news reporters are little different than their op-ed contributors.

You know who was a NYT 'reporter'? Maureen Dowd. Know who did the DC correspondent job for Time in the early 90s? Sid Blumenthal.

Hey, it's just a coincidence that all these reporters end up libs when they drop their veils....

Posted by: RW at July 22, 2009 1:53 PM


Bush took pride in being incurious and he was rightfully ridiculed for it. He like working from his gut.

Dowd is a Columnist not a news reporter. A news story is reporting on an event by giving facts a opinion column give the writers opinion. Micheal Jackson dying is a news story not an opinion piece.

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 2:21 PM

Wait. We are splitting hairs? On occasions too numerous to catalog, Bush and Palin demonstrated unfamiliarity, if not total ignorance about issues about which educated adult citizens are conversant.

Crank tried to make the argument that President Obama is similar to President Bush and Princess Sarah with respect to his habits of reading newspapers and, therefore, should be criticized for being "incurious and isolated from criticism."

As has been definitively shown in the comments above, the quotes on which Crank relies do not support his fundamental point that the Presdient does not read newspapers. Moreover, his entire argument ignores the fact that the evidentiary basis for concluding that Bush and Palin are incurious and isolated is far broader than anything they said about their newspaper reading habits.

In short, Crank's post is utterly without substance, logic, or thought. Perhaps it is time for him to get on the "birthers'" bandwagon.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 22, 2009 2:26 PM

I assume javaman merely forgot to post a source for his claims of Bush's "pride" in being "incurious." He will remedy that omission, am I right?

My opinion is probably similar to Crank's. It doesn't bother me that Obama doesn't read this or that; he has lots to do and can use other avenues to acquire information. It does make me smirk a little that Bush was criticized for essentially the same thing and now liberals want to split hairs about how the situations are different.

Posted by: DKH at July 22, 2009 2:26 PM

javaman, history did not begin in 2000. RW's point is that Dowd was a news reporter before she was a columnist, and that that's the sort of person they hire as "objective" journalists. Seriously, you could look it up.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 2:27 PM

Boy you liberals missed a chance for great comeback, so here is a softball tossed up for you to use:

"Obama doesn't read the newspapers because he decided not to. Bush did not read the newspapers because he can't!"

Really the above is the point that liberals were trying to make with the Bush/Palin don't read comments. It was just another way to slam a person instead of focusing on facts.

Posted by: Lee at July 22, 2009 3:52 PM

I would take seriously the idea that Magrooder thinks the birthers are a bad thing if he didn't keep defending Trig Trutherism.

As usual, I agree with Leon on that score.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 3:57 PM

wandering off topic again. But, I guess you are saying you Crank are not a Birther but you know what I am saying they could convince you (wink wink). The conservative movement has know turned into the guy who gave the arsonist the gas can and matches then claim they did not start the fire.

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 4:35 PM

WTF? No, I'm saying even if they did have a point - and they don't - they're wasting their time and breath.

All there is to the birther story is some sloppy paperwork in Hawaii. Which is SOP for government bureaucracies.

Posted by: Crank at July 22, 2009 4:39 PM

To some of the above commenters: So Obama gets a pass, as it were, vis-a-vis Bush and Palin, because by "columns" = opinion and that's not "news"?

Good grief.

Posted by: Dan Cleary at July 22, 2009 7:20 PM

Bush took pride in being incurious and he was rightfully ridiculed for it.

No source, only opinion and yet I can still hear the goalposts sliding down the turf. Impressive.

I assume you have some sort of secret signal to tell that Bush "takes pride" and Obama does not? Wait, I make no such assumption. The only safe assumption is that you are a dishonest fool.

Neither guy is going to spend his day second-guessing themselves through the media. I blame neither of them--they have better sources for news. Bush? Well, he's incurious. Obama knows everything already.

Next time your parents tell you that you don't serve any function on this planet, tell them you make me laugh. And that is worth something. You count!

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 22, 2009 7:56 PM

Of course Bush is an idiot- he is a Republican President and the media tells me so-Harvard grad, Yale grad. jet pilot, Officer Canidate school, bilingual-these are all the sign of an idiot. If I remember correctly Karl Rove or someone gave an interview about all the books Bush read. But hey that doesn't matter-he is (hold for new lefty phrase)- not intellectually curious.

Posted by: dch at July 22, 2009 9:46 PM

Good thing we all forgot the 2006 Correspondents Dinner. Would you like the link?
Nobody said Bush was an idiot just he is proudly incurious.

Posted by: javaman at July 22, 2009 10:47 PM

As I recall, what Bush said -- in answer to a a question -- was that he didn't read the editorials in the New York Times. That's sensible of him, I would say, since most of those editorials are not worth reading. (Unless you are looking for something to parody.)

Bush is far more of a reader, far more intellectually curious, than Obama, as anyone who looks at their book lists can tell.

Posted by: Jim Miller at July 22, 2009 10:57 PM

What a ridiculously silly argument. Which was exactly Crank's point.

Posted by: Joel in Seattle at July 23, 2009 3:07 PM

The only book we know Bush read (because there was tape of him doing it) was My Pet Goat.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 23, 2009 9:59 PM

Quoting full columns at a press conference..... Very pastiche!

Posted by: Home exchange at July 24, 2009 11:31 AM
Site Meter 250wde_2004WeblogAwards_BestSports.jpg