Spin Cycle

Clarence Page on Obama's 'Screwup'

Why the columnist can't always be a cheerleader

10.15.12 12:35 AM ET

Clarence Page is rooting for Barack Obama—up to a point.

“No question about it. I’m allowed to,” the Chicago Tribune columnist tells me in a video interview. “I’m a pundit.” He pauses a beat.

“But I also have my credibility at stake. I have to be very honest about these things.” And in the first presidential debate, “let’s face it, he did screw up, and Democrats were angrier at him than Republicans were.”

It’s hardly surprising that an African-American commentator from Chicago would favor the president. But Page can be cold-blooded in his analysis.

“I think a lot of the anti-Jim Lehrer backlash was really Obama folks who didn’t want to get mad at Obama,” he says. “Media folks are always good scapegoats.”

Should the press have given more scrutiny to Mitt Romney’s moderate responses that were at odds with his past positions? “We do have that responsibility, but so do the candidates,” Page says. “This is what was so frustrating about Barack Obama not putting up a good fight.” That’s why Democrats “were muttering like I do after a talk show, ‘Boy I wish I’d said so and so.’”

Page was “amazed” at the Republican convention to see that “Mitt Romney was still playing to the right. I said, this is a losing strategy. Then all of a sudden at the first debate, boom, he switches.”

Paul Ryan “held his own” at the VP debate against Joe Biden, even though, in Page’s view, his tax-cutting plan is “a lot of malarkey.” He believes the media focused on the vice president’s smiling and smirking because there were “so many darn numbers” thrown around and journalists “don’t like numbers…You don’t want to put people to sleep.”

Writing for the newspaper is no longer enough. Page was tweeting throughout the debate and did a Skype commentary afterward, only then turning to his column. “Just call me Mr. Synergy.”