Obama Gushes Over PBS’s ‘Civility’ in Town Hall, Attacks 'Talk Radio Culture’ for Polarization

Amidst PBS NewsHour co-host Gwen Ifill knocking Elkhart, Indiana at Wednesday night town hall for not supporting President Obama and audience members firing off some serious hardballs at him, there was one question concerning the “lack of civility” in politics that allowed the President to hail PBS as being “all about civility” while attacking talk radio as the cause of this decay. 

The woman, who described herself as “politically...in the center,” explained that she’s “spent a lot of times watching the debates of both parties trying to get a sense of who is my candidate” but unfortunately came away with the conclusion that “there was a lot of lack of civility.”

Giving a few somewhat-specific examples, she concluded that she “was pretty saddened by the whole situation” so she was interested in what the President’s “thoughts are on the tone of the debates overall.”

Obama began by chuckling that he hadn’t watched any of the debates and could still recite arguments of all the candidates on both sides, but the one-time college professor then started his latest lefty lecture by reassuring the audience that political debates back in the initial years after the country’s founding were also nasty:  

You know, this whole issue of civility is — you're right to be distressed by it. Now, I think it's important not to romanticize what politics used to be like. You know, if you read accounts of, like, Tom Jefferson said about John Adams, or what folks said about Lincoln. I mean they called them monkeys. They said they were illegitimate children. You know, know, I mean, there's some rough stuff. It wasn't on TV because they didn't have TVs, but it was rough.

Not surprisingly, the President offered a “but” to his previous statements by launching into a hit from the left on the media and a compliment to the government-funded PBS (which has been far from it, but more on that later): “But I do think what has happened is that some of the boundaries that used to be there for how you debated ideas have broken down and no offense against Gwen because she works for PBS which is all about civility.”

Ifill nodded in agreement and so Obama continued to absolve himself from any responsibility by blaming the “talk radio culture” (read: conservative talk radio) for personifying only the people who are the most vulgar and controversial:

But I do think the TV culture, the reality culture contributes to this because what happens — and talk radio culture. What happens is that politicians get the most attention the more outrageous they sound and so if you're civil and quiet and polite, nobody covers you. But if you say something crazy or rude, you're all over the news and that has fed, I think, this kind of arms race of insults and controversy that doesn't shine a lot of light, even though it generates a lot of heat.

As the Media Research Center and NewsBusters have documented for decades, PBS has been anything but civil with these small handful of example pulled from our archives by this millenial: 

  • On March 25, New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour panelist David Brooks declared that he had “forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz could be”
  • Former host and liberal activist Bill Moyers’s repeated calls to impeach then-President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that he discussed how it’d happen in 2007
  • Mark Shields blamed the deaths of 12 West Virginia coal miners in January 2006 on “Tom Delay’s America in action” through deregulation
  • Then-NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg wishing in July 1995 that the late Senator Jesse Helms or “one of his grandchildren” would contract AIDS as some sort of “retributive justice”
  • Appearing on PBS’s To the Contrary in November 1994, panelist Julianne Malveaux said this about Justice Clarence Thomas: “You know, I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease. Well, that's how I feel. He is an absolutely reprehensible person.”

While one can debate the merits of the role that the media (in all formats) has had on this particular election, the President taking to PBS’s airwaves in his final year to rekindle the left’s nostalgia for a handful of media outlets and pin blame on talk radio blares of both tired rhetoric and a cop-out to his political opponents.

The relevant portions of the transcript from PBS’s Questions for President Obama — A PBS NewsHour Special on June 1 can be found below.

PBS’s Questions for President Obama — A PBS NewsHour Special
June 1, 2016
8:35 p.m. Eastern

NANCI WIRT: Mr. President, I like many Americans, politically I'm in the center. I'm not too right, I'm not too left, so I spent a lot of times watching the debates of both parties trying to get a sense of who is my candidate. 

OBAMA: Right. 

WIRT: So, I watched a lot this year and what I came back with at the end was I found that there was a lot of lack of civility. 

OBAMA: Yeah. 

WIRT: That people were speaking — candidates were speaking over one another, shouting, calling each other names. There was a lot of inappropriate comments. I was pretty saddened by the whole situation. I'm curious what your thoughts are on the tone of the debates overall?

(....)

8:36 p.m. Eastern

OBAMA: You know, this whole issue of civility is — you're right to be distressed by it. Now, I think it's important not to romanticize what politics used to be like. You know, if you read accounts of, like, Tom Jefferson said about John Adams, or what folks said about Lincoln. I mean they called them monkeys. They said they were illegitimate children. You know, know, I mean, there's some rough stuff. It wasn't on TV because they didn't have TVs, but it was rough. But I do think what has happened is that some of the boundaries that used to be there for how you debated ideas have broken down and no offense against Gwen because she works for PBS which is all about civility. 

IFILL: Absolutely. [LAUGHTER] 

OBAMA: But I do think the TV culture, the reality culture contributes to this because what happens — and talk radio culture. What happens is that politicians get the most attention the more outrageous they sound and so if you're civil and quiet and polite, nobody covers you. But if you say something crazy or rude, you're all over the news and that has fed, I think, this kind of arms race of insults and controversy that doesn't shine a lot of light, even though it generates a lot of heat.


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