Friday’s CBS This Morning dove into the subject of President Obama vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard while events domestically and internationally rage, including the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. While they were the only network to mention this story, the report from CBS News White House Correspondent Major Garrett and discussion among the hosts afterward did little more than cover for the president.
At the conclusion of the segment, co-host Norah O’Donnell compared Obama’s golfing minutes after making a statement about Foley’s murder to former President George W. Bush going golfing after speaking about a suicide bombing in Iraq. O’Donnell observed that: “[T]he president, Obama, took a lot of flack for playing golf immediately after talking about the death of James Foley and President Bush, George W. Bush, got in a lot of hot water when he, after denouncing a suicide bombing, then went and played golf and said, “now watch my drive” and then he didn't play golf for the rest of his presidency after that because of the optics of it." [MP3 audio here]
Substitute co-host Jeff Glor countered that, at the same time that “you can't appear to be held hostage to events” and referred to a quote from former President George H.W. Bush going to the family’s property in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1991 after sending the U.S. military over to Iraq after it invading Kuwait.
Garrett reported that President Obama spent yesterday playing his eighth round of golf of his vacation and was “swinging freely and shaking hands leisurely along the fairway.”
All told, he said that Obama’s “vacation score card includes three dinners out, two beach days, one bike ride, a jazz concert, and a fund-raiser for Senate Democrats, ot to mention a five hour bachelor party Monday in the Washington home of former White House chef Sam Kass.”
Nevertheless, Garrett stated that, despite Obama being on vacation, the president "was hardly invisible, addressing the nation on Iraq three times, Ferguson twice, and on the implications of Foley's beheading."
He also referenced previous presidential vacations, including former President Franklin Roosevelt going fishing during the Nazi’s bombing of London in World War II.
While Obama’s predecessors have indeed vacationed during tense times here and abroad, it still does not make it right for this president to be golfing and smiling minutes after describing to the nation his feelings about the brutal slaughtering of an innocent American journalist.
Credit to CBS This Morning for reminding viewers that Obama has, with the exception of a visit back to the White House earlier this week, been on vacation amidst these tensions, but when British Prime Minister David Cameron returned from his vacation early to meet with his intelligence officials after Foley’s murderer appears to have possibly been a British citizen, covering for Obama is far from wise.
The relevant portions of the transcript from the August 22 segment on CBS This Morning are transcribed below.
CBS This Morning
August 22, 2014
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Presidential Vacation; Obama Criticized for Time Away]
JEFF GLOR: The Obamas come back from vacation on Sunday. The president was criticized by some for taking time off while domestic and international issues heat up.
[ON-SCREEN NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: The New York Times: “A Terrorist Horror, Then Golf: Incongruity Fuels Obama Critics,” The Hill: “Obama Hits Links for Eight Time,” New York Post: “Obama Hits the Golf Course Again Amid ISIS Crisis”]
He is not the first chief executive to face the challenge of juggling work and rest. Major Garrett is traveling with the president at Edgartown, Massachusetts. Major, good morning to you.
MAJOR GARRETT: Good morning. No modern American president ever enjoys a care free vacation. Global hot spots, domestic problems frequently intrude and that has been the case here on Martha's Vineyard. President Obama, as all presidents must, has found time to unwind. President Obama played his eighth round of vacation golf yesterday, swinging freely and shaking hands leisurely along the fairway. Across the world, a battle for Iraq intensified, Israel and Hamas exchanged rocket fire. Ferguson, Missouri, remained tense, and the nation pondered the gruesome murder of American James Foley. Midway through his vacation, President Obama returned to Washington for deliberations on Iraq and Ferguson, capped by a briefing room statement on both.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.
GARRETT: In addition to golf, the president's vacation score card includes three dinners out, two beach days, one bike ride, a jazz concert, and a fund-raiser for Senate Democrats, ot to mention a five hour bachelor party Monday in the Washington home of former White House chef Sam Kass, but Mr. Obama was hardly invisible, addressing the nation on Iraq three times, Ferguson twice, and on the implications of Foley's beheading.
OBAMA: We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what's necessary to see that justice is done.
GARRETT: Every presidential vacation is a contradiction. Nancy Reagan once quipped, “Presidents don't get vacations, they just get a change of scenery.” George Washington, of course, took the first presidential vacation and reviewed Pierre L’Enfant's designs for the new capital in Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson combined a vacation and a honeymoon. Franklin Roosevelt fished during the Nazi blitz of London. President George H.W. Bush spent 25 days in Kennebunkport, Maine, after deploying U.S. forces and airplanes to confront Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, telling reporters en route aboard Air Force One –
PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: What you don't want to do is appear to be held hostage in the White House to events.
GARRETT: Lawrence Knutson chronicles presidential vacations in a new book, observing every president needs some time away.
LAWRENCE KNUTSON: All of them have found something like golf takes their mind off the troubles of the world and they report leaves them fresher and better able to deal with the job ahead.
GARRETT: For those of us covering the president, it hasn't been a vacation either that comes with the territory.
O’DONNELL: You know, it’s an interesting though, that was an interesting piece that Major did about presidents and vacations because the president, Obama, took a lot of flack for playing golf immediately after talking about the death of James Foley and President Bush, George W. Bush, got in a lot of hot water when he, after denouncing a suicide bombing, then went and played golf and said, “now watch my drive” and then he didn't play golf for the rest of his presidency after that because of the optics of it.
GLOR: Right though, with the first President Bush made that point too, you can't appear to be held hostage to events.
O’DONNELL: Yeah. The debate will continue on that.