NYTimes Nods Along as 'Media Critic in Chief' Obama Excoriates Press for 'False Balance'

New York Times reporter Amy Chozick gave respectful attention Wednesday to President Obama's moonlighting as media critic: "Obama Is an Avid Reader, and Critic, of the News." Chozick pushed the pro-Democratic idea of the media pursuing "false balance," while pumping up Obama as "a voracious consumer of news." Almost totally ignored: Media favoritism toward Barack Obama. 

Chozick started with Obama, who has been a frequent critic of conservative outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's radio show, complaining about a three-year-old story from a rival newspaper.

A few months after President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package passed, he began to notice news reports, but not about the jobs the bill might create or how much of the country’s infrastructure it would repair. Instead, the articles focused on traffic jams.

“Traffic Set to Slow as Stimulus Gears Up,” as the headline on a 2009 article in USA Today read.

Jared Bernstein, an economist in the administration at the time, said the articles exemplified the White House’s problems with news media coverage. “The feeling was, ‘man, we can’t catch a break,’ ” he said.

While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him.

Chozick downplayed the clear favoritism toward Obama displayed by the press (as shown in a new report from the Media Research Center.)

The news media have played a crucial role in Mr. Obama’s career, helping to make him a national star not long after he had been an anonymous state legislator. As president, however, he has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion. He particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans oppose almost any tax increase to reduce the deficit.

Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

The Times reporter puffed up Obama's media critic credentials.

A writer before he was a politician, Mr. Obama is a voracious consumer of news, reading newspapers and magazines on his iPad and in print and dipping into blogs and Twitter. He regularly gives aides detailed descriptions of articles that he liked, and he can be thin-skinned about those that he does not.

He typically begins his day upstairs in the White House reading the major newspapers, including his hometown Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, mostly on his iPad through apps rather than their Web sites. He also skims articles that aides e-mail to him, with the subject line stating the publication and the headline (like “WSJ: Moody’s Downgrades Banks”).

Chozick dutifully laid out Obama's complaints against her field.

Mr. Obama has said the lack of an effective narrative has been one of his administration’s biggest missteps. “The mistake of my first term -- couple of years -- was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right,” Mr. Obama said in an interview last month with CBS’s Charlie Rose. “But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people.”

While Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the heated speech of cable news, he sees what he views as deeper problems in news outlets that strive for objectivity. In private meetings with columnists, he has talked about the concept of “false balance” -- that reporters should not give equal weight to both sides of an argument when one side is factually incorrect. He frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples, according to aides familiar with the meetings.

Speaking of media "balance," why is the website Talking Points Memo mildly termed "left-leaning," yet Powerline is a "conservative" website that features a "conservative pundit"?

The term “false balance,” which has been embraced by many Democrats, emerged in academic papers in the 1990s to describe global-warming coverage.

“I believe this type of ‘accuracy’ and ‘balance’ are a huge thing afflicting contemporary media,” said Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of the left-leaning Web site Talking Points Memo.

Conservative pundits see things differently. “Obama is used to the press cheerleading for him so any time a story gets reported straight he’s likely to think it represents a false equivalency,” said John H. Hinderaker, a Minneapolis lawyer behind Power Line, a conservative political Web site.

-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site