Reporter's Note: President Obama held the last news conference of his first term today.
Dear Mr. President,
As you know, I tend to make more observations than suggestions here, but this time I am leaning toward the latter. I have an idea for your second term that I really hope you’ll consider. Hold more press conferences.
Despite all of your claims about the transparency of your White House, the evidence suggests you’re hardly been a model of openness up to this point. You’ve had question and answer sessions with the media less often than President Clinton, or either President Bush. According to The American Presidency Project, since Calvin Coolidge only Nixon, Carter, Ford, and Reagan were less inclined to talk to the press than you are.
Granted, those of us in the mainstream media are not the only game in town. And sure, you’ve beefed up the White House website with a lot of features ostensibly to allow regular folks to find out information on their own. But honestly, I’ve looked over a lot of the information on your sites and most of it is thinly veiled political propaganda. I know that your fans would probably like to string me up for saying it, but your PR folks have just come up with smart ways to make press releases look like something else.
I know you’re always tweeting or popping up on social media sites and that’s part of your claim to transparency too, just like your appearances on talk shows. But you and I both know that as much as people may mistrust the MSM, all these alternative venues are custom made for avoiding tough questions. Rarely in such circumstances will you run into a cadre of well-informed professionals who know their subjects as well as you do, and who are ready and able to challenge your claims.
Hats off to you for the way your team has sold it. You’ve talked up the idea that you’re connecting directly to “real people” and not allowing the media to distort your message. You’ve convinced a lot of voters that they don’t need anyone to help them navigate the nuances of your policies or point out when you are…well, wrong. (Hey, it happens to the best of us.) Again, good for you. That makes your job a lot easier. But I am not convinced that it is better for America, or that it will be better for you in the long run.
Good ideas need robust challenges against which they can be tested. You should welcome voices of skepticism and dissent. You should, as Bill Clinton said, be grateful for your opponents because they point out the flaws in your position. Only by recognizing those flaws, can you address them.
So consider my suggestion. Hold more news conferences. Face tough questions from knowledgeable people more often. You don’t have to. You can meander along as you have if you wish. But the path to a great legacy can only be found through facing great challenges…even the kind you most dislike.
Meanwhile, give me a call if you have the time.
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