Saturday, November 2, 2013

Who are the Columnists that Matter the Most to Obama? All Men, Mostly White, Mostly Middle-Aged

Dylan Byers of POLITICO currently has a piece up called "President Obama, off the record", which looks at the president's relationship with his favorite columnists, the ones whose opinions he thinks matter.

Who are the columnists whose opinions matter to Obama?
The off-the-record meetings are held over coffee around the long wooden conference table in the Roosevelt Room, just off the West Wing lobby. Participants vary depending on the issue of the day, but there are regulars. Brooks, the New York Times columnist, is a frequent guest, as is Joe Klein of Time Magazine. From The Washington Post: E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein and Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor. On foreign policy: the Post’s David Ignatius, Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the Times’ Thomas Friedman. He also holds the occasional meeting with conservatives. This month, he met with Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, and other influential representatives from the right.
The "Off the Record with Obama" team is, of course, an all boys' club--not surprising amidst frequent claims of a "boys club" mentality from women in the White House. 
With one exception--Eugene Robinson---all are white.

And, with the exception of White House stenographer Ezra Klein, all are middle-aged (or older).

David Brooks: 52
Joe Klein: 67
E. J. Dionne: 61
Eugene Robinson: 59
Ezra Klein: 29
Fred Hiatt: 58
David Ignatius: 63
Jeffrey Goldberg: 48
Thomas Friedman: 60
Charles Krauthammer: 63
Paul Gigot: 58

Byers further describes these meetings:
The sessions, which have become more frequent in Obama’s second term — he held at least three in October — provide a stark contrast to the combative, sometimes cantankerous relationship between the White House and the press corps. They also serve as an alternate means of shaping the debate in Washington: a private back-channel of genuine sentiment that seeps into the echo-chamber, while Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, delivers largely scripted responses in the public briefings. Obama holds the occasional off-the-record meeting with top White House correspondents, but they are few and far between — a fact that rankles some members of the press corps. (POLITICO has attended off-the-record sessions with the president.)

At the same time, these bull sessions give validation to an oft-heard critique: that Obama prefers the law school salon to the bully pulpit — that he would rather be regarded as smart by the people he regards as smart than be feared by the opposition or seen as effective by the people he governs.
He sometimes even solicits their opinions:
The president appreciates the back-and-forth exchanges at the sessions, past participants told POLITICO. He even occasionally asks aides or administration officials what a specific columnist thinks about an issue. Sometimes, the aide will then reach out to the columnist to ask his or her opinion, which has had the unintended effect of spurring the columnist to write a piece expressing his thoughts on that very issue.
His foreign policy friends are all hawks and neocons. 
Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein, and E. J. Dionne are all moderately liberal--although Ezra is a bland technocrat. I don't believe any of the other individuals can be called "liberal" in any serious fashion (and I think I'm stretching it to include Ezra).

More troublingly, this man takes Thomas Friedman and David Brooks seriously. That should give you pause. Honestly, if he wanted Friedman's opinion, I think the Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Generator would be a FAR better debate partner.

That he takes Fred Hiatt seriously---the WaPo editorial board is always gunning for war or for benefit cuts--is equally troubling.

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