In this age of digital recording, Twitter, and YouTube, nothing can ever be considered “off the record.” So though it is right to question the journalistic integrity of Terry Moran, the ABC News reporter who tweeted the President’s mic check small talk during which he referred to the talented but erratic Mr. West as a ‘jackass’, the reality is we must chalk up the president’s “exposure” to the cost of opening your mouth in the 21st century.
No matter how the president’s words reach the American public, and no matter what the topic, the people are going to listen and react. In this instance the president’s words spurred four distinct reactions. Let’s take a look at each type:
Reaction #1: The president was caught making a very human remark about a very odd situation. No big deal, let’s keep it moving.
Reaction #2: This is a journalistic “teachable moment”. Rather than call journalistic integrity into question, it asks the larger question about the role of Twitter and other social media tools in journalism. The crux of this reaction is that if Mr. Moran hadn’t tweeted, there still was a high probability that the President’s Kanye commentary would have found its way into the ether. This reaction has validity since after a little Google searching, I was able to find the audio clip online.
Reaction #3: A thought from the political left: “President Obama calls Kanye a jackass. Now that he got that out of the way, what about Joe Wilson? Glenn Beck? WS Bankers? New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas?” The belief in some left wing circles is that President Obama has a lot of heart when it comes to criticizing lightweights, but isn’t quite as bold when it comes to giving his political enemies a swift kick in the rear. This reaction also has an interesting subtext in some segments of black America. Would the president have gone there had Kanye been white? From their vantage point there is no evidence of the president calling out a white person; and they don’t want to hear Officer James Crowley’s name offered as an example.
Reaction #4: This one is the most complex. Given Van Jones’s recent resignation, the tea parties, the dipping popularity poll numbers, and the desire to push through a health care bill, it takes the position that the social media savvy Team Obama knew very well that whatever the president said about Kanye would reach the public. By defending the honor of a wholesome young white girl against the attack of a black rapper, it would give him some bounce with white independents. Instead of being a “teachable moment,” it was the president’s Sister Souljah moment, calculated for maximum impact while also giving the added value of allowing the president to appear to be yet another victim of an out of control and integrity-free media.
Each of these reactions has a degree of logic; but rather than believing that this is a teachable moment for journalists or a Sister Souljah moment for Team Obama, this should have been an Ivy League-worthy moment for the president. He, however, dropped the ball. He shouldn’t have called Kanye “a jackass.” What he should have called him was “a solipsistic harlequin.” It may not have been as newsworthy, but I would have enjoyed reading the tweet typos.