Kicking Ass at the White House

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Last night, the media boomlet of the nano-moment was President Obama’s televised Chuck Norris schtick, when he told NBC’s Matt Lauer that the reason he talked to experts about the Gulf oil spill was because they “potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.”

Boo-yah! Obama’s showin’ some outrage! He’s takin’ it to the street! Bluster, baby, bluster!

Except, no. I was unhappy that Obama said this because I don’t think he should give in to the yahoos who insist that he needs to be the emoter-in-chief, but I didn’t bother commenting on it because something about the clip seemed slightly off. I wasn’t sure what, but it didn’t quite scan. Today, via Steve Benen, I know why. Here’s the whole exchange:

LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I’ve heard that in a long time. They’re saying here is a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn’t the time for cool, calm and collected. This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers; this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and — I never thought I’d say this to a president — but kick some butt. And I don’t mean it to be funny.

OBAMA: No, and I understand. And here’s what — I’m going to push back hard on this. Because I think that this is a — just an idea that got in folks heads, and the media’s run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.

Well, that explains it. Obama’s seemingly odd answer about why he talks to experts was a direct reply to the question Lauer asked and to the way Lauer phrased it. But none of us knew that because NBC chose to release only a part of Obama’s answer and none of Lauer’s question. They knew perfectly well what impression this would leave, they knew perfectly well that the media interpretation of Obama’s statement would be set in stone before anyone saw the entire interview, and if you go to about the 4:30 mark (and then to the 9:50 mark to hear the rest of Obama’s answer to the “kick some butt” question), you’ll see that the clip they released represents the exact opposite of how Obama twice told Lauer he actually feels. But they went ahead and did it anyway. Because, I guess, they really don’t care about reporting the news accurately. They just care about attracting attention.

But at least now I have a pretty good idea of whose ass I want to kick. The BP execs are going to have to get in line.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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