New York Times Avoids Obama's 'We Don't Have a Strategy' Comment in Headline

August 29th, 2014 4:15 PM

Some of the country's biggest newspapers avoided highlighting Barack Obama's "we don't have a strategy" comment in their headlines on Friday. The President made the remark in response to questions about how he will deal with Islamic militants in Syria. Yet, although this seemed to be the main takeaway from Thursday's news conference, the New York Times chose this bland headline: "Obama Urges Calm in Face of Crises in Ukraine and Syria." 

USA Today opted to focus on Russia with the banner headline. Regarding the Middle East, the paper redirected: "Poll: Amid foreign crises, more Americans support U.S. action." A smaller box off to the  far left read: "No Strategy Yet in Syria, Obama Says." In the article itself, it wasn't until paragraph eight (on page A4), that writer Susan Page mentioned the comments. 

She finally noted: 

At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama announced he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East and confirmed he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for possible ISIS bombing targets in Syria. But when pressed about military action there, he said, "We don't have a strategy yet" and cautioned: "Folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at."

The Washington Post's print banner headline, however, announced, "Obama: 'We Don't Have a Strategy Yet' on Syria." 

Writer Karen DeYoung got to the comments immediately: 

Amid conflicting congressional demands, impatient Arab allies, and public concern that he will do too much or too little, President Obama made bluntly clear Thursday why he has not yet implemented a comprehensive U.S. response to the Islamist insurgency that is rapidly spreading across the Middle East.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said, in response to questions about when he is prepared to begin military action in Syria, and, if not, why not?

Despite the fact that many see the comments as a gaffe, she spun them this way: "Rarely has a president spoken so plainly." 

In contrast, although New York Times journalist Peter Baker waited until paragraph four, he did not sugarcoat the statement: 

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” he said. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”

His comment drew fire from critics and prompted aides to clarify that he was only talking about Syria. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, posted on Twitter and went on television to say Mr. Obama did, in fact, have a strategy to combat ISIS in Iraq. He said it included military action, building an inclusive government, supporting Iraq’s military and recruiting regional partners.

The print edition of The Washington Times opted for directness: "We Don't Have a Strategy Yet.'"

The Politico's Josh Gerstein saw the remarks as an "awkward choice of words" and an "inartful phrase."