Benghazi Rises Above Partisan Politics

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 11:22 AM

By Jon Friedman

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President Barack Obama is not doing himself any favors with his questionable media strategy in the wake of the furor over the Benghazi hearings. Calling the inquiry a "side show" is not going to make it go away.
 
The president is coming across as petulant and this is never a useful frame of mind for someone who has to deal with the national media on an almost daily basis. 
 
Obama has proven himself to be a master of shrugging or shaking off unpleasant news by acting in a commanding way. If he says a story isn't that important, the electorate will tend to go along with him.
 
But even a savvy politician with the charm of President Obama will have a hard time brushing away the fiasco in Benghazi. Ever since the Iranian uprising at the U.S. embassy in 1979, the American people have become intolerant of attacks overseas on our men and women. 
 
It is almost unseemly for the president to make these inquiries into what happened an issue about himself. To a trained journalist's eye, it makes the president look like he is overreacting because he secretly may believe that the truth, which has yet to come out, could be more damaging. Is he trying to shield former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election? Who knows?
 
This is how celebrities in all walks of life behave — it's always all about them. I remember a few years ago when a movie star was talking about how he was portrayed badly in a gossipy tell-all about Hollywood. After reading the embarrassing disclosures about himself, he rushed to call his lawyer and demand a lawsuit for character assassination.
 
The actor related: "Then a little voice in my head whispered, "The truth is a lot worse. Let it go." The actor let it go and he is still enjoying a successful career today.
 
With the president, of course, things are never so simple. In Benghazi, clearly, the U.S. government dropped the ball, resulting in the deaths of four Americans. Now the country wants to understand what happened. The president and his followers are silly to make this look like some sort of a Republican-led "witch hunt."
 
This issue is not about partisan politics, anyway. Nobody should lower it to that level.
 
The media want the president to do what he does best: Look presidential. Take charge. Act dignified. Bring honor to his office and his nation. Don't behave in a defensive manner. Don't believe that you are somehow a victim of the media's onslaught.
 
It never does a president any good, in the long run, to turn a national foofaraw into a media issue. Journalists don't like it when the president calls them unfair at a time when they are doing their jobs.
 
I remember reading that many years ago the Washington bureau chief once called a White House press secretary to complain about the treatment that the paper's White House correspondent was getting. Rather than fly into a rage, the bureau chief gently reminded the press secretary: "We were here before you got here and we'll be here after you leave." 
 
The meaning was clear: We in the media will always have the last word. You can play us for fools at your peril.
 
President Obama and his media handlers should remember that anecdote.
 
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
 
 

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