Going into the last weekend of President Obama's vacation, the White House added a briefing to the schedule on Friday to give reporters an opportunity to serve the public by asking about important news events. That's why, of course, the first question asked of Principal Deputy Press Secretary and sun-tan-goggle-sufferer Eric Schultz was on the all-important topic of President Obama's golf game following a press conference on Wednesday.
Schultz was asked about the "flak" President Obama has been taking for going golfing this week, and if Schultz could "explain why he does this?":
"I am not going to get into the President's mindset on that. I will say that, generally, I think that, you know, sports and leisure activities are a good way for release and clearing of the mind for a lot of us."
Boom. Quick and to the point, impossible to argue with, and illustrative of the idiocy of the entire premise. The leader of the free world likes to clear his mind, just like the rest of us.
It didn't stop there, though, because old reliable Jon Karl had some Thoughts™. "Given the gravity of the events that he’s had to struggle with while he’s been up here, has there been any consideration, any internal discussion of saying, hey, maybe a day off from golf might not be a bad idea?" Karl asked, and then added "I mean, particularly yesterday, when you’re -- or particularly dealing with, in the wake of what happened with James Foley, and the President comes out and gives a very powerful statement on that murder, and then he goes right from here to a golf course. Is there any discussion of maybe, in a circumstance like that, it’s best to stay off the links for a little while?"
Schultz handled this one pretty well, too, seizing on the compliment Karl accidentally gave the President. "Jon, you are right the President did give a powerful statement in this auditorium Wednesday afternoon," Schultz said."I think that anyone wondering his views on both the situation with ISIL, that video, or his concern for the Foley family should go back and review that statement. It was delivered from the heart. It was candid. It was honest and it was open. And I think anyone trying to assess how seriously he takes the gravity of that situation should go back and watch that, or read it, or listen to it again."
Not to be deterred, Karl said "What I’m asking is, is the optics in what people see. And you saw the kind of split-screen photos that we’ve seen in newspapers yesterday -- the President making that statement, the terrible tragedy that the Foley family is dealing with, and then the shots of the President kind of laughing it up at the golf course right afterwards."
Schultz plowed through another answer about how engaged the President has been on his vacation, and faltered slightly on the dismount:
It’s important for us to understand, and I think that’s been evident, is that the issues the country is facing both on the international stage and back here at home have absolutely captured the President’s attention while we’ve been here.
"Captured the President's attention?" What is Schultz putting the President up for, a Participation Award?
He should have left it where he'd left it, and maybe asked Karl if he or his editors ever thought about what the value of "optics" reporting is to the public they serve.
Elsewhere in the briefing, reporters took their fourth and fifth shots at trying to get the White House to promote ISIS out of the junior varsity. First, it was Ed Henry and Jon Karl in June, then CNN's Jim Acosta two weeks ago, and today, CNN's Michelle Kosinski and Karl each took another shot at it. Karl asked if, "when he called groups like ISIL the 'JV team of al Qaeda, are no longer operative?" and when Schultz responded that "That would not be my take," an incredulous Karl said "So he still thinks this group is the JV team?"
Schultz referred Karl to the President's Wednesday statement for his views on ISIS, but the really strange thing here is the press' fascination with this quote, like maybe if they get the President to change his mind, ISIS will let them wear its varsity jacket to the prom.
The fact is, even a JV team can hurt people. Like the President said, so far they're picking on people who either can't defend themselves, or in the case of the Iraqi soldiers who fled their initial advances, won't. Does Jon Karl think it's "varsity" to pick up a dropped rifle, or slaughter civilians, or chase a religious minority up a mountain? We'll see how "varsity" they look after a couple of weeks of airstrikes. Bet it leaves a lot more than 18 holes.