(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Barack Obama spent an hour with the ladies of “The View” last week, much to the chagrin of many stuffy old media types who felt that the office would be “diminished” by the president spending time with a bunch of female talking heads. The results of the interview itself were not shocking, President Obama was his typical affable if not a little stiff self, and he answered questions with grace, sincerity and when he could humor. The truly shocking part of the of interview was that the depth and variety of questions offered the president were so much better than much of what we’ve heard from the mainstream press throughout much of the year.
One of the largest challenges that anyone has observed that has faced President Obama is the fact that he seems to be criticized no matter what he does. No matter what he is selling, or for how much or how long the press, both the right and the moderate left seem to want to take a pound of flesh from him every time he is on the air. To be fair, his record of failures, mistakes or even out and out lies is not insignificant. Guantanamo Bay is still up and running unabated, the Afghanistan war is continuing with no end of slowdown in troop deaths in sight, he’s maintained just about all of George Bush’s Orwellian security measures from wire-tapping to secret prisons, and let’s not forget about Shirley Sherrod. But these are things that most people, with any degree of political sophistication should have expected. There was no way that Obama was going to give away all of the extra-constitutional toys that Bush had left him under the presidential Christmas tree, and we will be committed to wars and occupations in the middle east for at least another decade.
However, these are not the issues that the president is often criticized about, these are not the issues that drive much of the nightly news coverage, even though they represent clear examples of him either breaking campaign promises or at least failing to go through with them in any meaningful way. Instead Obama gets press criticism for the very things that he’s actually accomplished even though they might not have gone as far as many on the left in particular would have liked. When you consider the president has been in office for about 18 months he has done much of what he said he would do. He passed a stimulus package that has saved millions of jobs if not created new ones (that’s subject to debate), he passed a health care bill (that still empowers insurance companies but at least covers more people), he passed Wall Street and financial reform (which didn’t actually change who’s in power but gives the government greater leeway to sue them) and lastly he took over and revamped the auto industry (which by all accounts has done better and has been more profitable since). Not a bad legislative resume for only 18 months in office, something that I think objective supporters and adversaries of the president would have to admit off the record.
Ironically, while the talking head press continues to cut through the minutia of these grander bills the oft maligned ladies of “The View” managed to ask the president simple pressing questions that actually matter to most Americans. They asked him what he thought was best about his job, they asked him what mistakes he had made, why his polls numbers were still low and what he planned to do to fix the 9.7 percent unemployment rate. Aren’t these the kinds of questions that regular people want to hear answers to? Personally I find it infinitely more informative to hear the president explain how and why he promoted the stimulus package than see the umpteenth video of a screaming Tea Party member on Fox, MSNBC or CNN.
Both “The View” and the president were rewarded for their creative experiment, the show got 6.6 million viewers, the highest ratings ever for a daytime talk show and probably the highest ratings Obama has received for anything in months. The hope is that perhaps seeing the success of this format that he will do more in the future. While “journalists” may have decried the format he chose, every once in awhile it’s good to hear a president just answer questions from regular people, and get to give full responses. The mainstream cable networks shouldn’t be so possessive of their presidential interviews, what are they afraid of, that the regular public might prefer straight answers to constant interpretations? Perish the thought.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)