04.21.10

The Media's Golf Double Standard

The president has gone golfing more than he’s met the press. Had Bush tried that, he’d have been clubbed by the media. Mark McKinnon on Washington’s 18-hole hypocrisy.

News flash: President Obama hasn’t held a formal press conference in almost a year (274 days and counting) yet has golfed 32 times since he was elected—eight more times than President George W. Bush did during his entire presidency.

Now personally, I think the president should golf every day and never have a press conference. I want the leader of the free world to be as stress-free as possible. And if golf helps fade the psychic heat from the job, by all means tee it up often, Mr. President. Sadly, press conferences have turned into not much more than vanity exhibitions for White House reporters who preen and exhort in front of the cameras—not to convey needed news to the public, but to make themselves seem important.

Obama was criticized by foreign press recently when he went golfing. But there was not a critical peep from the American press.

Does anyone really think that Obama has been hiding from the press? Obama has more press exposure than any president ever—by a long shot. He and his team have just figured out clever ways to communicate by going around the White House press corps, whose members are about as busy as the Maytag repairman these days. They’ve become glorified babysitters.

But imagine the press histrionics we would have heard if George W. Bush had gone nine months without a press conference?

Recall that Bush was loudly criticized when he didn’t hold press conferences frequently enough to satiate a badgering press, though he averaged one about every two months. Over the course of his presidency, he held 45.

Bush was also constantly ridiculed and criticized for playing golf, most memorably by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11. In August 2003, Bush gave up the game, believing it sent the wrong message to grieving parents of soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, he was ridiculed for that as well.

Obama was criticized by foreign press recently when, unable to travel to pay respects to the president of Poland who was killed in a plane crash, he went golfing.

But there was not a critical peep from the American press.

On Memorial Day last year, the press reverently reported that Obama placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in the morning, and then observed a moment of silence that afternoon—on the golf course before teeing off. (I can only imagine how this would have been reported if Bush’s moment of “silent remembrance and solemn prayer” was on the green.)

And here’s how ABC reported an outing after Obama had just returned from a trip to Germany visiting the horror of the Holocaust camps: “Nobody would fault Obama for taking Sunday to catch up on sleep and unwind after the breakneck travel schedule. But instead of vegging out on the couch, Obama returned to the White House for only about 90 minutes, then hopped in his motorcade and went right back to Andrews to get in nine holes of golf at one of the three courses on the base.”

And how about this headline from The Washington Post: “ Just the Sport for a Leader Most Driven.” Richard Leiby reports, “To some, Obama’s frequent outings reflect a cool self-confidence.” The article then quotes a sports psychologist who said Obama seemed able to play golf despite the grim reports by the media about the wars and the economy.

That bears repeating. Here is a journalist remarking about Obama that he is “able” to play golf despite war casualties and economic disaster. For Bush, the press couldn’t believe that he would dare golf at such a time, but for Obama they marvel that he can.

Now that’s a double standard that unfortunately we’ve come to expect. When it comes to press coverage of Bush vs. Obama, it’s become par for the course.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.