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January 31st, 2010
07:16 AM ET

Dear President Obama #377: The media's fault? Don't bet on it

Reporter's Note: President Obama’s dressing down of the Republicans continues to make news, as do their responses to what he had to say. It was a pretty unusual moment in presidential politics. And that’s what I’m writing about as I continue my relentless quest to write a letter every single day, to the man on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I know I wrote about your big meeting with the GOP’ers just yesterday, but I really want to pick up on that theme again today. Only this time, I want to talk about myself. Or rather, me and a lot of people like me, who comprise the media.

As you made that call for a change of tone in the political debate, one of your complaints is that we media types focus too often on the bitter words, sharp exchanges, and what an old friend of mine used to call “chair throwing” fights. Fair enough. I’ll readily admit that my profession has an unseemly appetite for flamethrowers on both sides of the aisle. Sure, we could make room for moderates to chew over the fine details of a pending agreement, but it’s so much more fun watching a pair of grenade lobbers square off. (To be honest, I actually don’t find that fun at all. Usually when I hear strident voices from either the far left or far right I start looking for a snack and wondering what is on ESPN. That said it is a simple equation for grabbing quick viewers, and that is certainly part of the problem too.)

But here is where you and I may diverge. I think both parties love blame the problem of uncivil talk on the media, but much of the time Dems and Repubs alike absolutely live for precisely that kind of coverage. They willingly provoke and invite it, and then stand around professing “shock, shock, that there is gambling here!” Both parties, with uproarious regularity, heave great bursting bombs of invective at each other, and they make sure in every way they can that we not only notice those attacks, but also that we give them front and center coverage. Ask to see my e-mail one day, and I’ll line up enough “poison” messages sent by political operatives about their foes to stretch from here to Kansas. If we start ignoring the folks who are specifically tasked with doing that in both parties, we will simply never hear the end of it. You pols all express dismay at the erosion of civil discourse, but that’s nothing compared to the open howling we in the media hear whenever we do not give air time to those explosive comments.

Seriously, do you think Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner would sit quietly by if they held a “hot oil over the parapets” news conference and we ignored it? And when was the last time you publicly dressed down Rahm Emanuel or Robert Gibbs for speaking too critically about the opposition?

You want to hear about what we media folks do wrong? Open the confessional and I’ll be the first one in. But on this issue, DC is flooded with hypocrites of the worst kind in both parties. Again I’ll say it: If the parties wants to cut the bitter, knife slashing comments out of the debate, and see media coverage that centers more on reasonable talk, there is an easy way to do it. Quit launching unfair attacks on each other. Quit telling half truths and whole lies. Cage your attack dogs, and publicly disavow untoward comments loudly and immediately, especially when they come from your own party.

You do your part, and Ill do mine.

In the meantime though, uh….call me,

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Charlene

    Very well said TOM!

    January 31, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  2. Gary W. Fuller

    Bravo.

    I am waiting for the day when Congress people from both sides of the aisle start working together to start solving the problems of this country as if our country's destiny—and their jobs—depended on it.

    No problem (and no solution) is as black and white as the two political parties paint them. Let's start emphasizing the common ground (and there is some) and work from there.

    January 31, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    So the politicians have to quit before the press quits? That's certainly the easy way out. The coverage of these verbal grenades could be reduced from half a show to less than a minute in one of the quickie news breaks that occur about halfway through each show. That way you have covered the "bombs" without exaggerating their importance or giving them enough air time to encourage more of the same. My child's kindergarten teacher always told her to "ignore inappropriate behavior" – I think that would be a good axiom to follow on all sides of this subject.

    January 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  4. Elizabeth Campbell

    I found you through Anderson Cooper's twitter account and I am just completely blown away by your writings. You are so very talented and I literally belly laugh every single day since I met you. Perhaps, we can get Obama girl to do a video with you, she is not as smitten because he never called her either.

    January 31, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  5. Anthony Mohr

    The plain honest truth about this issue, how original. Thank you very much for saying it and so eloquently.

    January 31, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  6. Gail

    Here, here Tom. As a person in the media I'm tired of being blamed for the news I cover. When Republican Scott Brown won his seat – what's the first thing he did? Hold up a newspaper declaring his win...political types will use the media when it suits them, and disparage them when it doesn't.

    January 31, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  7. Denise

    Well stated, Tom. I thoroughly enjoy reading your candid, yet, highly informative letters to President Obama. Your matter-of-fact dialogue is completely refreshing.

    January 31, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  8. Nick

    The only thing transparent about healthcare reform are the ghosts of seniors left to die without adequate Medicare coverage!

    January 31, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  9. aref dee

    Dear Tom

    This isn't one of your better pieces, possibly because you are defending an indefensible position. The President is right about the Media disposition, and you are right about the disposition of the politicians – but this just produces a 'chicken and egg' dilemma of who needs to fix their act first to solve the problem.

    The media does have a penchant for milking irrelevancies for more than they're worth: remember the 'Beer Summit'? How long did that stay in the news?

    But hey, CNN and AC are still the best...

    January 31, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  10. rosa

    thank"s for the article...

    January 31, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  11. rosa

    I"m with you... I say if you cant take the heat of the press, get out of the kitchen!

    January 31, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  12. cremlen

    Big THANK YOU for these words as it's enough to throw empty words just to blame the media for covering the big words thrown by "small" peaple. Remember Mr. Obama that that media happens to be the same one which haled your election. Believe me, the problem is not with smoke, but with the fire behind it.

    January 31, 2010 at 8:39 am |

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