By Matt Ern, Staff Writer
"Congress is full of rightwing crackpots," said former governor Howard Dean at a panel convened to discuss President Obama's strategy for dealing with the media and their efforts to evaluate the Obama White house, at the Student Center Theater on Tuesday. "They look like the radicals during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War," said Dean.
Dean made these comments after getting into a debate with fellow panel member Edward Rollins about what issues should be focused on in the next election. While Rollins was proposing that the next election should look to the youth and make unemployment a key issue, Dean interrupted him with a rebuttal, stating that Republicans need to focus on social issues, citing their campaign against NPR for evidence.
He then went on to criticize what he sees as a radical congress. Earlier, Dean made comments about the Tea Party being "crazy." Dean's pro-NPR comments and outburst against radical Republicans elicited applause from the audience.
Other than Dean's outbursts, the event was a relatively straightforward discussion of the media and the Obama presidency. Press critic Mark Jurkowitz spoke in terms of quantitative data that he used to outline what he believed to be the four major media issues surrounding Obama's presidency: questions of his race/birthplace, healthcare, the BP oil spill, and the war in Afghanistan.
Dean spoke next about the way Obama has presented the job crisis. According to Dean, Republicans are much better at manipulating the media, partly due to the fact that Democrats are more "intellectual." Dean explained that as intellectuals, most Democrats get tired of giving the same speech more than a few times, but campaigns require the same message to be delivered over and over.
Rollins, a successful campaign manager and member of numerous Republican administrations, spoke next, touching on the cluttered, difficult to predict nature of the media. There are certain things that no one can see coming, like the natural disasters in Japan, which will dominate the news, according to Rollins.
The final speaker was senior NPR host Robert Siegel. He mostly focused on the potential defense of the Obama administration that "things could always be worse" and that the administration's actions have prevented tragedies such as another Great Depression. But according to Siegel, the American public, as well as the media, have a hard time judging a president on what could have been instead of what is.
It was at this point that the moderators submitted some questions for debate to the panel. Among the topics discussed were the expanding crises in the Middle East and the roll the Tea Party will play in the upcoming election.
The panel concluded with questions from the audience that steered towards the challenges that arise when trying to keep news completely objective in the age of bloggers. Siegel joked about plugging "fact-based journalism" and urged people to consult primary sources for information to supplement what can be found on blogs.