Obama dares to laugh on 60 Minutes -- critics pounce, media follows
The latest squawking in pundit circles comes hours after President Obama's appearance on 60 Minutes, where he cracked rueful jokes about the state of the economy and public sentiment over measures taken to save it all.
The comment that seemed to set off this round of comments was Obama's crack that "I just want to say that the only thing less popular than putting money into banks is putting money into the auto industry." While the president chuckled over the line, Kroft himself smiled while asking whether people might misinterpret his laughter, wondering "are you punch-drunk?"
Obama attributed his comments to "gallows humor," saying "If you had said to us a year ago that the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem, I don't think anybody would have believed it."
For me, it was an example a "can-you-believe-this?" humor, appropriate and understandable given the enormous challenges he faces. But the Today show led its broadcast by asking if Obama's laughter was appropriate and publications ranging from the Chicago Sun-Times to the New York Daily News focused on his laughter in describing the interview.
An account of the moment on the Politico Web site seemed to imply the exchange was more confrontational than it actually was, saying Kroft "pressed" Obama on his laughter without noting that the correspondent was laughing, too. (Check out the moment for yourself below -- forward to the 13-minute, 20-second mark.)
Gawker -- I know, not exactly the New York Times -- has an interesting post about how Politico may be writing anti-Obama stories which serve the Drudge Report's agenda to get linked on his popular news aggregating Web site. Whether or not it's true, it certainly fits the times.
It's the second time in days an Obama apearance has gotten more attention for perceived gaffes than the substance of his interviews or actions -- this first being his appearance on Jay Leno last week -- and it's making me a bit uneasy.
One thing I noticed, for example, was that Kroft noted in an aside that the government will eventually recover the money AIG pays in controversial bonuses by subtracting it from the next scheduled bailout payment. So doesn't that mean that, eventually, the government will ensure its money doesn't fund these bonuses? And shouldn't that get a little more attention?
When George Bush slapped then-F.E.M.A. director Michael Brown's back and noted with a grin that he was doing "a heckuva job," that moment crystallized that administration's cluelessness about how badly the effort to help New Orleans survive Hurricane Katrina was going.
But this nitpicking of Obama seems unrelated to anything he's actually doing, fueled by media outlets' need to create an attention-getting story and Obama critics' desire to find something that will dent his massive popularity.
It's an odd situation: One moment, Obama is facing pointed questions for doing too much. Then, when he travels to California to drum up support for his economic programs, he gets criticized for leaving the White House when he should be working on the economy.
I guess it's easier to focus on a moment of laughter than offer serious dissection of the ideas contained in the near-half-hour interview aired on 60 Minutes Sunday. But it has become too easy for too many media outlets to echo the unfocused anger of the population with little context or perspective.
I'm sure I'll be accused of being to soft on Obama, but I think there's plenty of substantive questions to press Obama on regarding his recent actions. Do we really need to waste time on a wry joke or two?
Especially when we've all been cracking the same jokes ourselves.