Yesterday, in the midst of the commencement address he delivered at Hampton University, President Obama made a startling "admission" (readers will see why "admission" is in quotes shortly):
And meanwhile, you're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- (laughter) -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.
There are more troubling overtones inherent in the excerpt that many observers have already noted. I'll stay away from them for the purposes of this post.
Those matters aside, there are still a few pesky items that arise from the bolded portion of the excerpt.
If the President really doesn't know how to "work" an iPod, which has been out since 2001, isn't that just as bad or worse than the idea that President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) supposedly marveled at the operation of a grocery scanner in 1992? (I say "supposedly" because snopes.com, which if anything tends to err to the left, has definitively labeled those contentions, which were made twice by writers at the New York Times -- here and here -- "false.") Journalists leaped to their conclusions about Bush 41 based on jaded "observation." Here we have a president admitting to technical ignorance with no equivocation.
But the truth appears to be that Obama knows darned well how to "work" at least an iPod. At CNN.com's SciTech blog, John D. Sutter writes that "Given his apparent tech literacy, I wonder if Obama was kidding about not knowing how to work an iPod, iPad, Xbox or PlayStation. During the 2008 presidential campaign he told Rolling Stone his iPod contained songs by Bob Dylan, Jay-Z and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, among others. Presumably, his staffers didn't turn it on and work it for him." Just "kidding," huh? How about "fibbing to ingratiate yourself with your audience"?
Further, Obama's apparent belief that Xboxes and Playstations are commonly used as sources of "information" is pretty odd. Yes you can access the Internet with them, but the question is how many game console owners are doing so, and even if they are, whether it's for playing games or to getting info. I'd suggest that to the extent game console owners are accessing the Internet, they're usually doing so for gaming purposes, especially because the vast majority of households have computers with Internet access.
Press coverage of Obama's "iPod moment" is pretty scarce.
Jackie Calmes at the New York Times dodged it. Her last paragraph's quote begins in mid-sentence immediately after the iPod moment, but is presented as if a new sentence began instead. In her report at the Associated Press, Darlene Superville, last seen writing (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) that General Motors and Chrysler shed 400,000 jobs in 2008 when they didn't have that many employees to lose, avoided the controversial commencement paragraph completely. UPI.com's report did address the information-related items in Obama's speech, but didn't mention the President's allusion to iPods and other gadgets. AFP's coverage ("Obama bemoans 'diversions' of IPod, Xbox era") was the sole exception.
It's safe to say that the press would have jumped all over a Republican or conservative president claiming (or feigning) technical ignorance. Why? Because they uncriticially allowed the Obama campaign to do something very similar (actually, worse) to John McCain during 2008 the presidential campaign (noted at the time at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog).
The Obama campaign mocked McCain's tech capabilities, saying that, "He (McCain) admits he still doesn’t know how to use a computer, can’t send an e-mail ..." It turns out that "McCain’s severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes."
The question, "At long last, have you no decency?" springs to mind.
These people have no credibility when they lecture the nation about "civility" or "ranking high on the truth meter."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.