The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – he who can’t understand why Muslims aren’t more appreciative of being bombed to freedom – was recently invited to an exclusive audience with Barack Obama at the White House. Another present was the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder (a man who loves getting close to any official source he can).
There is something faintly nauseating about corporate journalists being wheeled into a meeting and simply repeating White House talking points after the event. No wonder the mainstream media is broken.
The hour-long discussion was on the record, but we attendees agreed to embargo the content until the president finished speaking tonight at West Point. As Obama answered questions, White House stewards served the president and his guests a three-course meal featuring a well-cooked Chesapeake striped bass and mango sorbet. There was wine, too, but no one imbibed. Some reporters scribbled notes in moleskin books; at least two recorded the session with their iPhones; one pecked away at his computer.
Before Obama arrived, a White House aide placed five separate audio recorders in front of the president. Two of his aides took copious notes. But the president did not seem to be overly concerned about calibrating his words, even as he discussed more sensitive issues, like counterterrorism in Pakistan and his conversations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.“I would prefer not having to deal with two wars right now. We’ve got a lot other business that we’ve got to do with our long-term security prosperity. In fact if your economy doesn’t thrive over the next couple of decades, that will have a direct impact on our military and our ability to project power around the world.”
“I believe that it is very important for us to define the mission in a way that speaks to the very real security interests that we have in keeping the pressure on Al Qaeda but to do so in a way that avoids mission creep and takes on a nation-building committment in Afghanistan. To steal Tom [Friedman]’s line, I’m interested in nation building here in the United States right now.”
He gestured at Friedman, the New York Times columnist, who was seated to his left.