CNN Panel Scoffs at Press Getting 'Manipulated' by White House, But CNN Was 'Manipulated' Too

On Sunday's Reliable Sources, the CNN panel scoffed at the media for getting "manipulated" by the White House last week into hyping Obama's meetings with the GOP as a "charm offensive." CNN's own reporting shows that it played right into those talking points.

"I love how easily the press corps is manipulated," remarked The Washington Post's Dana Milbank. "So, the President takes a few senators out to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel and has lunch with Paul Ryan, and suddenly, he's reaching out and there's all these efforts to have kumbaya. He's had two meals."

The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza added that "because the narrative moves so fast, the White House has the ability to change it overnight by having a couple of meals." He later re-affirmed that "I think a lot of it is just to change the press narrative."

Well if Obama's goal was to "change the press narrative," consider it accomplished. CNN repeatedly called the meetings a "charm offensive" from Thursday though Monday.

On no less than five different news hours on Thursday, CNN reported on Obama's "charm offensive." All three hours of Friday's The Situation Room featured the term, followed by four different news hours on Saturday and two shows on Sunday. On Monday morning's Newsroom, anchor Carol Costello wondered "Will the Obama charm offensive work?"

"The White House keeps singing a new tune with a focus on peace," chirped anchor Don Lemon on Thursday's 10 a.m. hour of Newsroom. "Today, President Obama's new charm offensive continues with a sit down meeting with Representatives Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland."

On Saturday's The Situation Room, Candy Crowley hyped that if the "charm offensive" was successful, it could help make Obama's presidency "transformational":

"I think what is to me is sort of brilliant about the charm offensive at this particular moment, is if the President can get a long-term deal out of this, then he is on his way to that kind of transformational presidency that he wanted."

"President Obama is pouring on the charm, at least what passes for charm on Capitol Hill," anchor Carol Costello reported on Monday morning's Newsroom before smacking Republicans for "gamesmanship." She lamented, "What's not so charming is the gamesmanship," as she reported Rep. Louie Gohmert's (R-Tex.) bill making it illegal for Obama to play golf on the taxpayer's dollar.

"And while politicians bicker over dinner dates and golf, the full effects of those spending cuts are yet to come. But hope springs eternal, right? Talk back question today: Will the Obama charm offensive work?" she hoped.

"Now, this charm offensive by the President, we're getting new nuggets, new details on almost on a daily basis right now. What's behind this?" reported host Wolf Blitzer on Friday's The Situation Room.

Blitzer later asked former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich what he thought of Obama's "charm offensive," adding "You lived through a presidential charm offensive. And Bill Clinton, as president, you were speaker. He was always trying to charm you and he often succeeded, right?"

On Saturday's The Situation Room, correspondent Jim Acosta cast Obama's meetings as genuine gestures of bipartisanship:

"It's almost been Washington in black and white this week, a flashback to a bygone era, when Democrats and Republicans used to sit down and talk to each other and tried to solve the nation's problems. And the President was trying to do just that with this charm offensive, inviting the Republican senators, roughly a dozen of them, out to dinner at a fancy hotel here in Washington earlier this week. And then meeting with an old campaign rival, the former vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan for lunch at the White House on Thursday. He heads up to the Hill next week to do more of the same with the Republican and Democratic lawmakers from both the House and Senate."

Blitzer cheerleaded the "charm offensive" as "baby steps." After Acosta noted that "the Republicans just are not having it. So, it is going to take some more time. It is going to take more than a charm offensive," Blitzer added, "Yes. A few baby steps, but as you point out, they have a lot of work to do."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Reliable Sources on March 10 at 11:09 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

HOWARD KURTZ: Before we let you go, all of that coverage of the automatic budget cuts, the sequester, "the sky is falling," "everything is going to go to hell in a hand basket," parroting the administration line, that hasn't quite happened. And yet now, the press seems to have pivoted to what's being called the Obama charm offensive. What about these budget cuts, and even the – some would say the technique of closing down the White House tours to anger a lot of tourists?

MILBANK: I love how easily the press corps is manipulated. So, the President takes a few senators out to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel and has lunch with Paul Ryan, and suddenly, he's reaching out and there's all these efforts to have kumbaya. He's had two meals.

LIZZA: He's had two meals. It's true. You can change -- because the narrative moves so fast, the White House has the ability to change it overnight by having a couple of meals. I think on the budget cuts, the jury is not in yet, right? It's only been, where are we, it's the 10th today?

KURTZ: Absolutely. But some people felt that the administration went too far in predicting all of this sort of instant doom and gloom –

LIZZA: They did. They did.

KURTZ: – and the press swallowed it. And there was very little independent reporting, with one exception, the front page piece in your newspaper saying some of what they're saying is exaggerated. This could look different in six months, I guess.

LIZZA: There's no doubt, they make decisions. Charlie Peters at The Washington Monthly, he had some funny line about this. You know, I think he called it the fire house rule. When there's a budget cut to government, the government always says the first thing that's going to be cut is the fire house.

KURTZ: The Washington Monument strategy. Close down the monument. Except in this case, they've done the White House tours. So, is the press so easily manipulated, to use Dana Milbank's elegant word, that the President who has been criticized even by his own party for not schmoozing and socializing with members of Congress, and kind of preferring to just hang out with his family, can have a couple of meals with the GOP and suddenly he's reaching out, he's got a new strategy?

LIZZA: I think there's a lot of that. I think a lot of it is just to change the press narrative. There's probably some benefit for him actually -- you know, actually going out to dinner with the senators. Actually sitting down with Paul Ryan.

KURTZ: Yes, there is.

LIZZA: You know, I've been writing about this recently – I think it's all overrated. Politicians are successful when they have large majorities in Congress, and usually schmoozing doesn't overcome that. Even LBJ was not as great as we remember. He was great when he had big numbers in Congress and he was a bum when he didn't.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014