Tales from the Trail

Huntsman goes after the media

For months, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign has arguably been kept afloat by the media. Fundraising has lagged and his national poll numbers are still at about 2 percent — the same as when he entered the race in June. Yet Huntsman has received lengthy and favorable profiles by the New York Times magazine, Newsweek, Esquire and Vogue — coverage that Buddy Roemer or Gary Johnson, who have registered similar poll numbers, or Ron Paul, who has much better ones, could only dream of.

But that didn’t keep Huntsman from lashing out at the media today while campaigning in Nashua, N.H. “My hot button is when the media have me come across as cool and collected, because I’m not,” said Huntsman, in response to a question about what makes him angry. “When I’m placed on the end of the debate stage and get three minutes of time because everyone is focused on who lights their hair on fire in the debate.”

Huntsman praised his “Lincoln-Douglas” debate in New Hampshire last week with Newt Gingrich as a model of civilized discourse because neither he nor Gingrich were asked any “gotcha questions.” But he lamented the media’s analysis of the debate. “There wasn’t any blood on the floor, how come you didn’t kill each other?” he said. “This is what we’ve come to.”

Huntsman may have a fair point about the media’s coverage of the election as a “horse race,” but he may not want to cite an event at which his own daughter fell asleep as an example of an ideal presidential debate.


Washington spinmeisters start BP’s damage control

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe new public relations gurus hired by BP couldn’t have started at a better time. The team, headed by Anne Womack-Kolton — a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney and the White House — had just started work when they had to deal with an unfortunate statement by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

On Sunday Hayward infuriated many of those struggling to deal with the impact the massive oil spill has had on their lives and livelihood when he said he wanted his “life back” and wanted the oil spill mess to be over. So today his office issued the following email:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’ When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf – who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.

Question raised by Obama-Calderon presser: Was that it?

It was definitely not a press conference and it was barely a Q-and-A.

For a White House that is more agile than any predecessor in new media –Twitter, blogs, video — it seems to be getting a bit out of practice with the traditional question-answer format with real, live reporters.

President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon faced the media in the White House Rose Garden. USA-MEXICO/

They took a total of two questions, both were on border issues. Obama answered lengthily about his concerns with the current U.S. immigration system, the fight against drugs, and the positive coordination with Mexico. All ground covered by the administration many times. Not exactly headline-making.

Obama chides media for healthcare impatience

USA-HEALTH/ President Barack Obama, whom critics often complain gets an easy ride from the so-called liberal media, has pointed the finger of blame at the press for holding him to unrealistic expectations about the benefits of his milestone legislation.

“Every single day since I signed the reform law there’s been another headline that says ‘Nation’s still divided on healthcare reform’, ‘Polls haven’t changed yet.’ Well, yeah. It just happened last week. It’s only been a week.”

“Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm,” he said to a rally in Portland, Maine. “Planted some seed. they came out the next day and look – nothing’s happened! There is no crop. We’re going to starve…it’s a disaster.”

Obama, a news junkie?

Lots of American presidents liked to pretend they didn’t dwell on the news — too busy attacking big problems for such a trifling. But then they would reveal themselves as news junkies (See 1992 presidential campaign and George H.W. Bush’s slogan: Annoy the Media — Re-Elect Bush).

President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, publicly boasted about ignoring most of what the press wrote and said about him. In reality, he had read the major newspapers by 6:45 a.m., while not paying much attention to television news.

OBAMA/Which brings us to Obama. He is making no bones about being a real news hound — even while holding the craven media mavens at arm’s length, as shown by his having avoided holding solo news conferences for seven months until a surprise appearance on Monday.

Media naysayers troubling Obama again

Those media naysayers are troubling President Obama again.

The U.S. leader, who hasn’t had a prime-time news conference in six months, made clear his aggravation with the scribblers in remarks Thursday to a Democratic fundraiser at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

OBAMA/As the tony crowd, who were asked to  pay $30,400 per couple, dined on beet salad, beef and Brussels sprouts, the president laid out his case against the unruly nabobs of negativism.

They were the ones who declared his presidential campaign dead about a dozen times.

How Obama’s Nobel speech played in Washington

NOBEL-OBAMA/For a man who just won the Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama didn’t look all that happy as he strode to the lectern in Oslo. He had that downturned smile that was almost an acknowledgement of all the critics who say the award is premature — especially for a commander-in-chief who has just vowed to send 30,000 more U.S. troops into harm’s way in Afghanistan.

The speech itself didn’t make much of a splash on morning television in Washington. None of the major TV networks carried it live, though CNN did, cutting away from Obama from time to time to show an audience listening attentively, with a few eyelids drooping. But viewers didn’t have many options if they wanted to see the speech as it happened. They could see a blink of Obama sandwiched in between the televised feature stories — Dillie the Deer, a taped interview with first lady Michelle Obama, a duel interview with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman to promote their new movie.

The Washington Post ran a live feed on its Web site; after the speech ended, there was a story and a photo slide show. The New York Times posted a text of the address. The Drudge Report – a one-stop online gateway for some in Washington — ran two small headlines about the Nobel ceremony (“Obama defends US wars as he accepts peace prize…” and  ”Norwegians Incensed Over Obama Snubs…”) over the main story. Just after the speech it was “SNOW DRIFTS TO 15FT!” but later it changed to “DEMS TO LIFT DEBT CEILING BY $1.8 TRILLION!”

Anti-Americanism at play in Italian verdict?

Did anti-American sentiment play into the guilty verdict for American exchange student Amanda Knox?

Her family and a prominent U.S. senator are crying foul. Knox was sentenced last week to 26 years in prison for murdering her British roommate during a drunken sex game.

KnoxSen. Maria Cantwell, from Knox’s home state of Washington, says she has “serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial” and said she plans to pursue that with U.S. and Italian officials.

He’s powerful… And you’re not?

NUCEAR-IRAN/MISSILES-USAMaybe it was a sign that someone wanted to put the press corps — or possibly the White House staff — in their place.

Who knows, but at the beginning of the daily White House press briefing on Wednesday, a disembodied voice sounded in the briefing room, saying: “THE PRESIDENT IS POWERFUL.”

Reporters and White House staffers in the room laughed, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs joked about it, to more laughter. But no one offered an explanation for the pronouncement.

Obama, honoring Cronkite, yearns for old style journalism

NEW YORK – He called him “Mr. Cronkite” and wished they had been friends.

cronkBut more than anything, President Barack Obama, speaking at Walter Cronkite’s memorial service, honored the standards the veteran CBS anchorman used as a journalist — and seemed to long for them again.

“We also remember and celebrate the journalism that Walter practiced – a standard of honesty and integrity and responsibility to which so many of you have committed your careers,” Obama told the audience, which included many of the U.S. media elite.