Speaking at a journalism awards dinner Monday, President Barack Obama called for the news media to do a more responsible job in covering political campaigns.
“The electorate would be better served if we didn’t focus so much on the he said-she said back and forth of our politics, because, while fairness is the hallmark of good journalism, a false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw,” Obama said. “If I say the world is round and someone else says its flat, that’s worth reporting. But you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support that the world is round. That shouldn’t be buried in paragraph five or six of the article.”
Obama’s remarks came during the Syracuse University Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporter, awarded in Washington.
Obama asserted that during the 2008 campaign the media “asked me really tough questions.” However, he doesn’t think today’s candidates are getting the same scrutiny.
The president said news companies have an obligation to “invest a good chunk of that profit back into news, in public affairs and to maintain certain standards and to not dumb down the news.”
“There is enormous pressure on journalists to fill the void and feed the beast with instant commentary and twitter rumors and celebrity gossip and softer stories,” the president said. “Then we fail to understand our world and understand one another as well as we should.”
He said a news media that sacrifices in-depth reporting for “slap dash tweets” is harmful to democracy.
“When our election campaigns and our political candidates become completely untethered from facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions for future generations,” Obama said.
Though his remarks included a positive note about America’s free press when he recalled a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin about an Atlantic article on Obama’s foreign policy.
“He said, ‘Well, I disagree with some of the things that you said in there.’” Obama recalled.
Obama continued: “Well, some of the things that were shaped may not fully reflect all of the nuance of my thoughts of the particular topic that President Putin was mentioning. But I pointed out to him, of course, that ‘unlike you Vladimir, I don’t get to edit the piece before it’s published.’”