NPR Forwards Notion That Bin Laden Death is 'Fundamental Shift' For Obama

NPR's Ari Shapiro emphasized the possible political benefits for President Obama on Thursday's Morning Edition in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. Shapiro lined up sound bites from three pundits who touted the "big moment" for the "bold" President and how it amounted to a  "fundamental shift in the way Americans perceive Mr. Obama."

Midway through his report, the correspondent introduced a clip from former Bill Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol: "He [Shesol] believes this week could mark a fundamental shift in the way Americans perceive Mr. Obama." The Clinton alum claimed that it would be "very hard after this moment to suggest that President Obama doesn't have the guts to make tough calls, to make bold and risky calls...and then to go ahead because he knows it to be the right thing to do."

Shapiro then added that "gutsy, tough, and bold are not words people have often applied to President Obama. He's more often stereotyped as deliberative, professorial, and aloof." He continued that "even many Republicans say this week recasts President Obama as a more decisive leader," following this with a sound bite from Trey Greyson, who ran against freshman Senator Rand Paul in the Kentucky primary in 2010, and now leads Harvard's Institute of Politics. Greyson raved that the operation which killed bin Laden "certainly [is] a big moment and it will certainly play a role in people's perception, which will therefore play a role in his reelection."

The sole dissenting voice during the report came from Republican pollster Glen Bolger, who emphasized the continuing lagging economy:

SHAPIRO: ...Republican strategist Glen Bolger think[s] the death of bin Laden may ultimately be a side note to the Obama presidency.

GLEN BOLGER: If things get better for the country, this is just going to be just one more thing people think about. If things don't get better for the country, then people are going to go back and say, look, yeah, he did that well, but what has he done about jobs? What has he done about the debt? What has he done about spending?

Shapiro followed this with a clip from Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, who leaned towards the President:

SHAPIRO: Democratic pollster Jeff Garin agrees that the death of bin Laden does not fix the economy or guarantee that President Obama's poll numbers will stay high, but he says today's appearance at Ground Zero will burnish a moment in the public's mind.

JEFF GARIN: First impressions are powerful and in some respects, even after two years this is a first impression of President Obama in this kind of situation.

The NPR reporter isn't alone at his network in playing up the positive political effects of the Osama death for the President. On Monday and Tuesday, his colleagues Mara Liasson and Cokie Roberts heralded the "huge victory" for the Democrat and how it was a "game changer politically."

The full transcript of Ari Shapiro's report on Thursday's Morning Edition:

Ari Shaprio, NPR Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgSHAPIRO: One of the most powerful moments of President Bush's eight years in office took place on the ground where President Obama will stand today. Three days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush stood amid the rubble of the World Trade Center with his arm over an emergency rescue worker's shoulder. He took a bullhorn and began speaking off the cuff.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (from 2001 appearance at Ground Zero): I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people- (crowd cheers) and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. (crowd cheers)

SHAPIRO: Now the decade-long manhunt is over, and President Obama comes to Ground Zero to symbolically close this chapter. It's a very different moment in America, and today's event will have a very different tone. President Obama does not plan to make any public comments. White House spokesman Jay Carney explain the reasoning to reporters.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY (from briefing): He wants to lay a wreath to honor the victims; to honor the first responders who so courageously rushed to the scene, and, in many cases, gave their own lives to try to save others; to honor the spirit of unity in America that we all felt in the wake of that terrible attack. I think the power of that requires no words.

SHAPIRO: The President will meet in private with first responders and relatives of those who died on 9/11.

Jeff Shesol was a speechwriter for President Clinton, and he believes this week could mark a fundamental shift in the way Americans perceive Mr. Obama.

JEFF SHESOL: I think it's very hard after this moment to suggest that President Obama doesn't have the guts to make tough calls, to make bold and risky calls, to make decisions that could lead to failure, that could lead to loss of life, and then, to go ahead because he knows it to be the right thing to do.

SHAPIRO: Gutsy, tough, and bold are not words people have often applied to President Obama. He's more often stereotyped as deliberative, professorial, and aloof. Even many Republicans say this week recasts President Obama as a more decisive leader. Trey Grayson directs the Harvard Institute of Politics.

TREY GRAYSON, HARVARD INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: It's certainly a big moment and it will certainly play a role in people's perception, which will therefore play a role in his reelection.

SHAPIRO: This may be especially true for young voters. Today's college students grew up with the image of bin Laden as an almost mythological villain.

GRAYSON: For the kids who I see in college, it's a moment that tied all of their generation together. We had hundreds of kids run up to the Harvard Yard and they put a flag around John Harvard's statue and started chanting, and these are defining moments for them and you saw the celebration.

SHAPIRO: But the parents of those kids are still concerned about high gas prices, a bad economy, and the shortage of jobs. That makes Republican strategist Glen Bolger think the death of bin Laden may ultimately be a side note to the Obama presidency.

GLEN BOLGER: If things get better for the country, this is just going to be just one more thing people think about. If things don't get better for the country, then people are going to go back and say, look, yeah, he did that well, but what has he done about jobs? What has he done about the debt? What has he done about spending?

SHAPIRO: The White House is aware of that risk, which may be one reason President Obama flies to Indianapolis tomorrow for an event about the economy. After that, he'll address troops at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.


Democratic pollster Geoff Garin agrees that the death of bin Laden does not fix the economy or guarantee that President Obama's poll numbers will stay high, but he says today's appearance at Ground Zero will burnish a moment in the public's mind.

GEOFF GARIN: First impressions are powerful and, in some respects, even after two years, this is a first impression of President Obama in this kind of situation.

SHAPIRO: The administration hopes it is an impression that will last. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center