Press Release? Friday’s NY Times Story On Obama’s ‘Town Hall’ Is Almost All About Obama, His Quotes

Posted on Sat 01/09/2016 by

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TimGrahampicture-13-1409699701By Tim Graham ~

The New York Times should earn some kind of dubious award for its story in Friday’s newspaper on Obama’s CNN “town hall” event. While other liberal media outlets stressed the back-and-forth with Obama’s critics, Times reporter Michael Shear’s article resembled a press release stuffed with quotes by Obama and his top aide Valerie Jarrett. Only two paragraphs out of 17 focused on critics – in this case, the non-participating National Rifle Association.

Shear’s idea of dividing the quotes was offering five quotations from Obama – two CNN statements, one from Obama’s New York Times op-ed, and two from Obama’s East Room remarks from Tuesday. The headline was “At a Televised Town Hall Event, Obama Pleads for Stricter Gun Laws.” Shear began:

Obama-CNNGMUPresident Obama delivered a plea for stricter gun laws during an hourlong televised town-hall-style event Thursday night, demanding a national response to what he called an epidemic of gun violence in this country.

Fifteen paragraphs in, Shear briefly allowed the NRA to say it “sees no reason to participate in a public-relations spectacle orchestrated by the White House.” Fortunately, CNN found critics outside the NRA to challenge him on air – not that Shear noticed. A caption merely read “President Obama answered an audience member’s question during a live event.” A Times reader wouldn’t know there were Obama critics who spoke up.

By contrast, Washington Post White House reporters David Nakamura and Juliet Eilperin reported “100 partisans” from both sides of the gun debate attended the CNN event, and by paragraph five, were quoting an opposing view from Tara Kyle:

“Celebrate that we’re good people and 99.9 percent of us aren’t going to kill anyone,” Tara Kyle, the widow of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whose story, including his death at the hands of a mentally unstable man was the basis of the movie American Sniper, told Obama plaintively.

AP wrote a dispatch this morning headlined “Obama Mocks ‘Conspiracy’ at Forum on Gun Control.” Kathleen Hennessey and Kevin Freking began:

President Barack Obama mocked conspiracy theorists and tore into the National Rifle Association for pushing “imaginary fiction,” as he described his plans to tighten gun control rules as modest first steps toward tackling gun violence in America.

In a prime-time, televised town hall meeting Thursday, Obama fielded tough questions from high-profile gun control opponents and supporters alike, often answering with sympathy and without confrontation as he tried to reassure Americans there is a middle ground on a fiercely divisive issue.

The Times must have realized its original story sounded like a press release. Its Shear story online on Friday afternoon plays up the “tough questioning” he received:

WASHINGTON — In an intense but civil town-hall-style event broadcast live on television, gun rights activists repeatedly pressed President Obama on Thursday night to justify his gun control efforts, putting him on the defensive over an issue that has divided the nation’s capital and the presidential campaign trail.

At the forum on Thursday night, a rape victim, an Arizona sheriff and a gun shop owner each questioned Mr. Obama, urging the president not to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns.

“I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids,” the rape victim, a woman named Kimberly, told the president. “Why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you are putting make it harder for me to own a gun?”

The bluntness of the questioners selected by CNN, which proposed and moderated the forum, created an environment for Mr. Obama that is unusual for a president who is more often surrounded by loyal aides, allies and handpicked supporters.

The irony is that Shear’s original story seemed to be stuffed with Obama and his loyal aides, and awfully shy on blunt critics.

It’s amazing that Shear could discover a real debate took place. Perhaps the Shear story that Times readers received in their Washington Edition this morning was written before the CNN show ended? The Obama quotes from CNN in the newspaper came just 20 minutes into what ended up being a 72-minute show. But pre-baking your morning story is no excuse for the all-Obama format. Shear could have made more room for critics, even writing in advance.

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters. He is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.

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