Why Obama’s funny chat with Zach Galifianakis leaves questions unanswered

Print More
President Obama meeting with Zach Galifianakis

from White House

President Obama meeting with Zach Galifianakis

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

Why should we rejoice when the President avoids meeting with serious journalists, and instead entertains conversations with comedians? This is a day to mourn the state of what passes as journalism, and to mourn the state of our republic.

  • Larry

    The fact that a comedy show has been more accurate and well informed than at least one major cable news sources should have given us all pause. But this is the world we are living in today.

  • carolinasistah

    There is a lot to get indignant over regarding this president. THIS is not one of them. Chill!

  • Larry

    Not as bad as his intro to Cosmos on Sunday:

    “I am as surprised to be on Fox as you are”

  • hi Mike. i used to think you just had an issue with Islam. Actually this note helps me place you in a bigger context. Thank you for the clarification.

  • I don’t know about being a learned Muslim, but I am learned enough to know the difference between “were” and “where.”

    And I also know that scriptures, like all literature, have passages that are mythical and symbolic. In Islamic discourse this is what is what we call mutashabihat. You might wish to look it up: Distinction between clear verses (muhkamat) and mutashabihat (ambiguous).
    http://www.sunnipath.com/library/books/B0040P0018.aspx

    Sorry to disappoint by not fitting your idea of what a Muslim is supposed to believe. Good night.

  • David

    TL;DR: With my comment I want to critique this article for appealing to a dubious, idealized vision of the past to make an unfair and unhelpful criticism of journalism.

    Around this time every year President Obama gets criticism from some for daring to take time to make NCAA brackets. While I don’t think Professor Safi’s criticism is as disingenuous, I think it is of a kind, and I think that it is ultimately an attempt to control the conversation rather than contribute to it.

    But what of “serious journalism,” of focusing on the stories that really matter? Despite Professor Safi’s mourning of a past where serious journalism supposedly held more sway, it is a tradition that has always competed with other impulses in this Republic, and often at a severe disadvantage. I have great respect for Helen Thomas and Edward Murrow, but I wouldn’t exactly say that the state of journalism or our Republic were healthier when they were at their peaks then it is now.

    True, bemoaning the loss an idealized past that never was is also a proud tradition of our Republic, but what it really shows is a lack of confidence that one’s arguments can win the day without relying on the power of tradition. If Professor Safi’s imagined confrontation between Murrow and Obama actually happened, I can easily imagine President Obama simply and calmly challenging the premise and then moving on. The shift in public opinion, if any, would depend on Obama’s rhetorical ability to handle Murrow’s questions rather than the on the facts. Personally, I don’t want to depend on that.

    This does not mean that we should not criticize politicians for living in bubbles. But the problem with living in a bubble is not that they avoid challenging interviews, it is that they avoid challenging information and make decisions haphazardly. Interviews are a reliable way to tell if a politician is a good rhetorician, and a good way to allow a politician to explain his views, but they have limited value in showing whether a politician is making the right decisions or exposing the politician to other views. For this, we need data, we need studies, we need research, and we need journalists who are capable of analyzing it all and writing/speaking it coherently. Even though we are actually making great strides in this, we should also remember that it always a process that is affected by free speech and people’s rights to say and listen to what they want. Too much outrage is bad for the heart.

    This article forgets that we do have a mechanism in place for holding politicians accountable – elections. If we want (and I really think we have to) to improve our elections process by improving confronting, scrutinizing journalism, we should focus on enforcing and expanding freedom of information acts, we should promote useful research and analysis, and so on. Seeing our favorite journalist “hold a politician’s feet to the fire” is a great visceral thrill, “must-see TV,” certainly, but it shouldn’t be our main concern. We have much, much stronger tools we should use.

    PS – Professor Safi wrote in a comment in response to a comment I can no longer see:

    “Sorry to disappoint by not fitting your idea of what a Muslim is supposed to believe.”

    I wonder if Abu Eesa thought this in response to Professor Safi’s criticism of him.