Breaking: Who is Barack Obama!


Helpfully, Alter tells Dowd: Who is Barack Obama?

We wouldn’t attempt to tell you. This morning, though, in her latest column, Maureen Dowd lets Jonathan Alter explain.

Here at THE HOWLER, we just can’t help it—we’re inclined to like Jonathan Alter. But is he missing a connection between two remarks Dowd records in this passage?
DOWD (5/29/13): Like many others in our business, Jonathan Alter says he is “on fire” about the Justice Department’s snooping on reporters and attempting to criminalize investigative journalism, including labeling the respected Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation.

Alter—whose second history of the Barack Obama era, “The Center Holds,” comes out next week—is puzzled about why a former Constitutional law professor allowed such a sinister turn.

“What is it about Obama that he so disdains us?” he muses. “Presidents always hate leaks. Ronald Reagan said ‘I’ve had it up to my keister with these leaks.’ But they usually don’t act on it. Even if Obama didn’t personally sign off, people always sense by osmosis what leaders are thinking and go in that direction. His people know that leaks offend his sense of discipline and that he likes to protect his right flank by being tough on national security.

“Kennedy had been a reporter, but Obama is not friendly with the press. And he has contempt for people who don’t do their jobs, and, when you talk to the press out of school, you’re not doing your job.”
Weird! In that second remark, Alter says Obama “has contempt for people who don’t do their jobs.”

Earlier, he wonders why Obama disdains the press corps! Is Alter missing a fairly obvious possible connection between those two remarks?

The way the pundit corps does its job: In that passage, Alter, a journalist, writes a pretty good novel.

According to Alter, “[subordinates] always sense by osmosis what leaders are thinking and go in that direction.” This is meant to justify the idea that Obama “acted on” his hatred of leaks in the matter of James Rosen, even if he didn’t “personally sign off” on the things his subordinates did.

As journalism, that’s a good novel. Subordinates “always” know what the leader is thinking. And somehow, our narrator knows this!

As journalism, that’s a novel. We’re just saying, of course.


  1. Yes, it's crappy narrative writing by Alter.

    But some folks, Bob, will likely note that you create an inference of your own from the facts presented here: Is there a "fairly obvious" way in which the press corps doesn't "do their jobs," thus meriting president Obama's disdain?

    Yes, there are many ways in which the press have failed, harming Obama in the process (you have admirably documented much of this failure).

    To be scrupulously fair though, there are also many ways in which the press has carried water for Obama. This too is a major failure of the press corps.

    This is not a partisan issue, as the ways in which the press helps the Obama administration, to the detriment of the people, in my opinion, are generally those in which it helps most presidents:

    - Foreign policy is almost never examined or criticised in any other than an American-exceptionalism frame.

    - Domestic policies on which there is "bipartisan agreement" to support business interests rather than citizen interests are not criticised.

    You generally don't attend to such matters, as is your choice. But in the long run, such a blind spot to a major defect in the "American discourse" does affect you own credibility.

    Just saying, of course.

    1. You're right about Bob's blindspots. We all have them, I guess. I think Bob's work is very important, but his interest is in what happens in DC and how it is reported (very badly), but that's all he seems to write about, with the exception of education.

  2. Alter doesn't seem to get any distinction between leaks of legitimate state secrets -- think the D-Day landing sites, for example, or the fact that we have an insider in North Korea feeding us information -- versus leaks of government wrongdoing. Is there a difference there, or are a reporter and his or her editor supposed to be the sole arbiters of what constitutes legitimate government secrets and what does not?