Zakaria to media: Oil spill isn’t about Obama’s emotions

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, June 12, 2010 21:47 EDT
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CNN foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria has made an unusual foray into commentary, criticizing the US press for its focus on questioning President Obama’s emotional reaction to the spill.

It was evidently the president’s comment last week that he’s trying to figure out “whose ass to kick” over the oil spill that convinced the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS that the media is “trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

“Have we all gone crazy? I don’t mean you, I mean us, the media,” Zakaria said in a special comment on CNN. “In dealing with a serious problem involving technical breakdown, engineering malfunctions, environmental fallout and regulatory mishaps, the media has decided to hone in on one issue above all others: Presidential emotion. The overriding need of the hour, we have decided, is not a clean-up plan, not a regulatory overhaul, not a new energy policy, but the image of the president visibly enraged.”

Zakaria continued:

What exactly is the point of all this? What purpose would be served by having the president scream or cry or whatever it is he’s supposed to do to show emotion? Would it plug the hole?

The truth is that what’s happening in the Gulf is a terrible tragedy but there is very little the federal government can do in the short term to actually stop the spill.

This whole discussion is a terrible example of how the media can trivialize political discussion. The presidency is a serious job, the most serious job in the country. And here we are, asking the man to dress the part, to play-act emotions, to give us satisfaction by doing something, even if it’s all phony stuff just designed to give the impression of action. And we’ve managed to succeed….

The federal government is now consumed with pretending that it is doing something about a situation it actually cant do much about. Meanwhile, the economy is showing dangerous signs of slowing, the European debt crisis is getting worse, our allies in Asia are outraged that the president canceled his trip once more, the Chinese military is flexing its muscles and Iran and North Korea continue to defy the world.

But thank goodness the president is now talking about kicking some ass.

While the president’s every move in the oil spill has been scrutinized by antagonistic news sources such as Fox News, the obsession with the president’s emotional reaction has spilled over into the more sober news sources as well. In late May, the New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd referred to Obama as “President Spock” over his detached demeanor in the weeks after the oil spill became news.

That the issue is a red herring distracting audiences from the real problems involved has not been lost on the White House.

“Pounding on a podium isn’t going to fix a hole in the ocean,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said last week, adding he believed the president would ultimately be judged by “results” rather than his emotions.

In an interview on the CNN Web site, Zakaria suggests that things have changed for the worse in American political discourse, pointing to the fact that the media didn’t make similar demands of President George H. W. Bush when the Exxon Valdez disaster happened on his watch.

“I don’t believe George H.W. Bush … ever even went to the area in the first few months. … There was no requirement that the president seem to be somehow actively engaged on a minute-to-minute basis in a situation that was clearly a spill by an oil tanker,” Zakaria said.

Zakaria added: “What worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it, and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

The following video appeared on CNN’s Web site June 12, 2010.

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