All the instant media reactions to Obama’s oil speech missed an essential point: this isn’t about him. The question is not whether he is tough enough on BP, nor whether his Oval Office address will help him or hurt him. It’s not about whether he’s going to be seen as another “weak” President like Jimmy Carter. The question is: Did his speech help us as a nation solve our energy problem?
Obama actually said things that make sense. He outlined a plan to clean up the BP-caused mess, compensate victims, and protect the Gulf Coast environment. More importantly, he reminded us that we can’t go on any longer delaying an energy program to get off oil.
But because news media reports focused so much on the politics — whether his speech helped him or hurt him, and how politicians reacted – they didn’t fully report, in depth and contextually, what he actually said. The lead item this morning on the first page of nytimes.com was a so-called “news analysis” (meaning commentary) instead of a factual report that might have helped readers understand what he actually said and what the background is. This “news analysis” said he was “fighting his own powerlessness.” What’s the basis for saying that? None was given, and in any case that’s not the main point.
It’s true that people are fascinated by how well or how badly a President is doing, and it’s easy for lazy journalists to find plenty of people to quote about that, but that doesn’t mean news media should fixate on our leader’s ups and downs. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if Obama is doing well or not. What matters is whether we as a nation are doing well. That’s what journalists should use as their frame of reference. They should quote informed, impartial experts on how the clean-up plan will work. And they should do hard-hitting, investigative reporting on how much we are being hurt by Congress’s failure to enact a comprehensive energy plan.
(White House photo.)