NY Times Slobbers Over Intellectual Obama & His Fabulous Dinner Chats on 'Architecture, Art and Literature'

July 15th, 2014 4:00 PM

Breaking story from the New York Times: Obama attended a pretentious dinner party in Rome back in March, hob-nobbing with particle physicists and captains of industry. Reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis, whose articles on Obama outside the White House give the president free rein to insult the GOP, on Tuesday slobbered over Obama the intellectual, and his fabulous dinner guests from all over the world, drinking Drappier Champagne and talking of "the importance of understanding science, the future of the universe, how sports brings people together, and many other things," according to party hostess Linda Douglass.

Douglass, an Obama-defending reporter at CBS and ABC who joined the Obama campaign in 2008 and became an Obama-care spokesperson, is the wife of John Phillips, U.S. ambassador to Rome. The Times left out Douglass's journalism past, merely calling her a former Obama aide.

The text box demonstrated Obama's laser-like focus on the nation's problems in these troubled times: "Freewheeling events, with conversations about architecture, art and literature." Apparently the ongoing illegal immigration crisis never comes up during these "freewheeling...conversations."

President Obama had just disembarked from Air Force One and was still on the tarmac in Rome when he turned to his host, John R. Phillips, the American ambassador to Italy, with an unexpected request: How about a dinner party tomorrow night?

Over the next 24 hours, the startled Mr. Phillips and his wife, the former Obama aide Linda Douglass, scrambled to gather some of Italy’s intellettuali.

The architect Renzo Piano flew in from Genoa. The particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti arrived from Geneva. John Elkann, the chairman of Fiat and an owner of the Italian soccer club Juventus, came, too, as did his sister, Ginevra, a film director. Over a 2006 Brunello, grilled rib-eye and three pasta dishes -- cacio e pepe, all’arrabbiata and Bolognese -- at Villa Taverna, the 15th-century manor that serves as the ambassador’s residence, the group talked until close to midnight about “the importance of understanding science, the future of the universe, how sports brings people together, and many other things,” Ms. Douglass said.

Davis elevated Obama and passed along his crack that a Republican leader of Congress was a dull drinking companion.

In a summer when the president is traveling across the country meeting with ordinary Americans under highly choreographed conditions, the Rome dinner shows another side of Mr. Obama. As one of an increasing number of late-night dinners in his second term, it offers a glimpse into a president who prefers intellectuals to politicians, and into the rarefied company Mr. Obama may keep after he leaves the White House.

Sometimes stretching into the small hours of the morning, the dinners reflect a restless president weary of the obligations of the White House and less concerned about the appearance of partying with the rich and celebrated. Freewheeling, with conversation touching on art, architecture and literature, the gatherings are a world away from the stilted meals Mr. Obama had last year with Senate Republican leaders at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.

As Mr. Obama once said about the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky: “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”


One Saturday night in May, Mr. Obama was up well past midnight at the White House for a dinner that included Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker, and his wife, Julie; Anne Wojcicki, the chief executive and a co-founder of the personal genome testing company 23andMe, who brought her sister, Susan, the chief executive of YouTube; and Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic donor. Mrs. Obama was also there, but she was not on the trip to Rome. The dinner there was first reported by Politico.


In Rome in March, Mr. Piano said, the president seemed happy to talk about something other than politics and current events. “I think he was refreshed to sit down in a beautiful place, with good food, and talking with serenity about important things,” Mr. Piano said. He recalled that Mr. Obama, who once had dreams of becoming an architect, had many questions about Mr. Piano’s work.

“It was a real curiosity of a real man who was trying to explore how things happen,” Mr. Piano said.

David gave an uncritical rundown of how Obama's friendships and fund-raising ran on the same track, before a reference to illegal immigrants. Yet even though the border crisis is the administration's scandal de jure, Davis failed to mention it, even given such an opening to suggest Obama spend less time shooting the breeze with Ken Burns and more time on his job.

Guests at the dinners are typically supporters of the president and sympathetic to his political views, but not always. At the dinner in Rome, one guest was Italo Zanzi, the American-born chief executive of A. S. Roma, another top Italian soccer team. Mr. Zanzi was a Republican candidate for Congress in his native New York in 2006, and in 2008 he contributed to the presidential campaign of Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival.

During his own campaign, Mr. Zanzi highlighted his opposition to legislation granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, and he advocated random checks by the police to deport those without legal status.

Davis instead stuck to the real story: What did the president drink?

In Paris, the president was up again until nearly midnight enjoying, among other things, Drappier Champagne.

Over the years the Times has laid down a long line of drool over "sophisticated, nuanced" liberalism, whether it's politicians (Secretary of State John Kerry) policies (Obama on Israel), or places (Europe in general). Needless to say, that's not quite how they covered former President George W. Bush.

Then-Times reporter Matt Bai in 2012 even praised Obama's fact-challenged memoir, in which he condensed some characters into one, as a sign of Obama's smarts, his "narrative sophistication, his novelistic instinct for developing themes."