It’s not, as the Washington Post declared melodramatically, that Obama’s “foreign policy credentials are at stake” in his tour of the Middle East and Europe this week. Obama has no credentials to risk. It’s closer to what the Agence France-Presse wrote: Obama’s audition for the part of commander-in-chief. Fortunately for the Illinois naïf, all three network news anchors — CBS’s Katie Couric, ABC’s Charlie Gibson and NBC’s Brian Williams — have decided to accompany Obama on his credibility-invention tour.
Skepticism comes (unexpectedly) from the New York Times. Feminist Maureen Dowd wrote, “He has a week to prove his commander-in-chiefiness, even though he doesn’t have the authority to do anything commander-in-chiefy.”
A month after securing the Republican nomination, John McCain visited Iraq for a week. The March visit received only grudging coverage the networks couldn’t avoid. According to our friends at the Media Research Center, the week-long trip resulted in four full reports by the three networks’ nightly news broadcasts and five mentions. One, on CBS on March 17, was less than thirty seconds long.
The three networks have sent their anchors, reporters and production crews along on Obama’s tour. Not to report, but to produce campaign commercials for Obama that they will pass off as news. They are — collectively — acting as a massive “527 Group” to promote Obama from senator to president.
CBS’s chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan apparently scored the first on-tour interview with Obama in Afghanistan where he managed to shoot a few baskets with the troops. Parts of the interview were seen on “Face the Nation” and “Evening News” Sunday. According to The Politico, the rest will be on “CBS Evening News” on Monday.”
Logan — who agreed conspicuously with Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart that we’ve “lost our humanity” in Iraq — also told Stewart that “If I were to watch the news that you’re hearing in the United States, I’d just blow my brains out. ‘Cause it would drive me nuts.” It’s nice to know that not even she can watch the stuff she and the rest of the political activists in the media present as if they are reporting the news.
Logan’s interview — partially aired Sunday on Face the Nation — was a series of softball questions that went so smoothly for Obama they could have been rehearsed. Showing pictures of Obama with the troops and with Afghan President Karzai, Logan asked Obama about his military plans. Obama said he wants to move perhaps two brigades of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and “unify command.” Nice military-sounding terms but — naturally — Logan didn’t ask him what he means by “unifying command.” NATO places unreasonable restrictions on operational use of its members’ troops. Does Obama want to override that? If so, how will he get NATO governments to agree?
Logan went on, asking soft questions on Obama’s plans in terms that gave him the opportunity to repeat his campaign talking points. And he did. Obama said Afghanistan needs to be the central theater in the war against terrorists; America needs a “regional approach” to the war, and so forth. And she gave him the chance to back away from his threat to take military action inside Pakistan without the Pakistani government’s approval. (With her prompting, he agreed with the current policy, which allows some unilateral action).
From there, it only got worse.
Logan asked him about the purpose of his trip. Was it to gain credibility and assuage doubts about his ability to lead?
Obama’s response was quick and brazenly cynical. Having discussed national security issues such as football with the troops Obama claimed — impliedly — that our troops support him. In answer to Logan’s question on resolving doubts about his ability to lead, Obama said that the troops he’d met with didn’t express any such doubts.
That is a point we’ll hear over and over again from now until November, and not only from Obama but from the political activists in the media. The segment ended with Logan asking Obama if he had any doubts about his ability to lead. Smiling broadly, the candidate said “none.”
That interview is only the beginning.
The Politico reported that each of the network anchors is scheduled for a high-profile broadcast interview with Obama: Couric on Tuesday (presumably from Baghdad), Gibson on Wednesday and Williams on Thursday (a precursor to Obama’s meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy — also now president of the European Union — on Friday).
As ABC’s Martha Raddatz admitted on Sunday, it is only possible for Obama to make news and generate positive publicity because the networks are following him so enthusiastically. They’ve effectively made themselves part of the Obama campaign to make him appear presidential. Photo ops and staged events will be substituted for the penetrating questions Obama should be asked.
If there were anyone among the network anchors interested in reporting more than in helping Obama create imaginary credentials they could ask some questions designed to elicit information American voters need. Obama met with Hamid Karzai and is scheduled to meet with Gen. David Petraeus and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. Real journalists would as questions such as:
* Gen. Petraeus has said that our progress in Iraq is both tenuous and reversible. You’ve said that we have to be as careful withdrawing from Iraq as we were careless going in. Doesn’t “careful” mean ensuring that our accomplishments aren’t reversed? Can you establish a schedule for withdrawal without endangering those accomplishments?
* Prime Minister Maliki apparently favors a rapid withdrawal of US forces. Do you believe America’s interests in preserving our accomplishments should override Iraqi desires for a quick withdrawal?
* You told Lara Logan that America’s future leadership should not be unilateral, that you see our role in “building partnerships.” Will you tell French President Sarkozy that we will not act militarily without the approval of allies such as France or international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council?
* You’ve said that you agree with the policy of taking unilateral action in Pakistan if the Pakistani government doesn’t cooperate in striking at al-Queda there. Shouldn’t an analogous policy apply to the Iranian nuclear program?
None of those questions will be asked by the network anchors this week. Couric, Gibson and Williams are not there to commit acts of journalism. They’re stage props on Rockbama’s World Credibility Tour.
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