NYT Flushes Obama’s Damning ‘Cable TV’ Admission From Defensive San Bernardino Story

December 18th, 2015 12:18 PM

President Obama spoke off the record to news columnists, in a defensive response to Republican criticism that he has seemed passive and uninterested in the face of Islamic terrorist attacks and threats against the United States. In a news story about the meeting New York Times reporters Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris, who weren’t present, revealed this damning admission from the president:

In his meeting with the columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments.

But that sentence was deleted from the updated version that appeared in Friday’s print edition. Mediaite’s Alex Griswold took us through the affair:

The President of the United States failed to understand that Americans were anxious after two major terrorist attacks in Western cities because he doesn’t watch TV? It’s an admission that opponents are sure to use to make the president seem out-of-touch at best, and unconcerned about a serious threat at worst.

Many politicos and journalists immediately saw the newsworthiness of the statement, especially after CNN’s Brian Stelter drew attention to it.

But just as the quote was beginning to make the rounds, it disappeared entirely from the the Times piece, without a correction or any indication that the piece had been updated.

Sean Davis at The Federalist added:

The unexplained deletion of that major passage wasn’t the only significant change made to the story since it was first published. New York Times editors also changed the story’s headline four separate times, according to Newsdiffs.org. Each headline revision either put Obama in a better light or put the GOP in a worse one.

The original headline when the story was first published was “Obama Visiting National Counterterrorism Center.” Less than two hours later, the headline was “Obama, at Counterterrorism Center, Offers Assurances On Safety.” Then the headline was changed to “Frustrated by Republican Critics, Obama Defends Muted Response to Attacks.” Two hours later, the headline was once again revised to “Under Fire From G.O.P., Obama Defends Response to Terror Attacks.” The most recent headline revision, which accompanied the deletion of the passage where Obama admitted he didn’t understand the American public’s anxiety about terrorism, now reads, “Assailed by G.O.P., Obama Defends His Response To Terror Attacks.”

The current version of Baker and Harris’s story now has this paraphrase in paragraph four, with Obama in apologetic mode but without the damning bit about not watching “cable television”:

But Mr. Obama said he now realizes that he was slow to respond to public fears after terrorist attacks in Paris and California, acknowledging that his low-key approach led Americans to worry that he was not doing enough to keep the country safe. He has engaged in a blitz of public events lately to try to convince them otherwise, including a visit on Thursday to the National Counterterrorism Center.

The session with columnists was off the record, but the president’s remarks were recounted on Thursday by several people in the room after one of the writers, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, described some of the president’s thinking in a column without attributing it directly to Mr. Obama.

Ignatius’s column in the Post also referenced Obama’s cable admission, though in a rather snobby fashion: “Obama seems to have realized that he was slow to respond to public fear after the jihadist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif . His low-decibel approach led the public to worry he wasn’t doing enough to keep the country safe. Obama, not a cable television fan, apparently didn’t realize the state of anxiety.”

Back to the New York Times’ story, now cleansed of any reference to “cable television”:

Mr. Obama made his comments during a nearly two-hour meeting with the columnists and other opinion writers on Tuesday afternoon, about 10 in all, just hours before the debate and when his frustration with Republican criticism was evident. He appeared especially exasperated with Mr. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims’ entering the United States. Mr. Obama said that Mr. Trump’s comments on Muslims did not make him an outlier in the presidential field, but instead represented the culmination of many years of a Republican strategy of division and fear mongering.

The people in the room who described the president’s comments asked for anonymity because of the ground rules of the meeting. Among those attending the session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House were an opinion columnist and an editorial writer for The New York Times, but they were not sources for this article.

Mr. Obama is struggling to fashion a message that reassures Americans that he is serious about battling the threat of the Islamic State while also avoiding what he considers the alarmism voiced by some Republican presidential candidates. Polls suggest that many Americans believe he is not taking the threat from the Islamic State seriously enough.

NYT reporter Baker (who in 2012 portrayed Obama on the front page as a passive, luckless victim of world events) and Harris concluded by turning the issue of Islamic terror into just the latest scurrilous attacks by Republicans against Obama:

He also expressed pique at Republicans. For all of the attention paid to Mr. Trump, he said, the ideas that the Republican candidates are promoting have been part of a longer-term strategy of the party. And they have been successful to a point, Mr. Obama added, noting that many Americans believe he is a Muslim who was not born in the United States.