The reaction to President Obama’s military strikes against Libya can be described in three phases: shock and awe (when the bombs started landing); skepticism (when he failed to adequately explain what he was up to), and bewilderment (when his explanations didn’t match the facts on the ground).
There seemed to be a gap between the president’s professed goal (preventing a massacre) and military reality (U.S. and NATO forces are actively trying to help the rebels and topple Muammar Gaddafi).
That may help explain why Obama’s big speech on Libya, nine days into the conflict, landed with something of a thud.
The media coverage was mainly critical, with 55 percent of the sources quoted describing the speech negatively and 45 percent positively. If only nonpartisan sources are considered, 77 percent were negative, 23 percent positive.
The figures come from a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, affiliated with George Mason University, which examined 32 major news stories that ran on March 29, the day after the speech.
Obama’s best-received argument was that the intervention was necessary for humanitarian reasons (91 percent positive). A much smaller majority (55 percent) welcomed his argument that the bombing would help the Libyan rebels oust Gaddafi.
But two-thirds of the comments were negative when it came to Obama’s insistence that the intervention was in America’s interest. Three-quarters had a negative assessment of the president’s description of the U.S. mission, and a striking 89 percent were negative about whether he was justified in taking military action under the War Powers Act.
Obama got the best ride on the broadcast networks—100 percent positive--which, as center president Robert Lichter points out, is in part because he granted interviews to the ABC, CBS and NBC anchors. Nothing like access to squeeze out time for critics.
The coverage was balanced (50 percent positive) at both the Washington Post and Fox’s Special Report; 54 percent negative in the New York Times, and 64 percent negative in the Wall Street Journal.
The most negative coverage? A virtual tie between USA Today (77 percent negative ) and Politico (76 percent negative).
And you will not be shocked to learn that most of the chatter broke down along party lines: 93 percent of the comments by Republicans were negative, 92 percent by Democrats were positive. The only thing surprising about that finding is that many in the GOP have been supportive of military action in Libya while nonetheless finding fault with Obama (he waited too long, explained it poorly, shouldn’t have let NATO take the lead).
Now that Gaddafi and the rebels seem locked in a stalemate and U.S. firepower is playing a lesser role, the intensity of the coverage seems to be receding as well. But if the morass drags on, the reaction to the speech could become the template for continuing carping about Obama’s kinetic military action, more commonly known as war.
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