WASHINGTON – Smart, but aloof. A good negotiator, but not strong enough in foreign policy. That was something five Pulitzer-winning journalists could agree on. But they also agreed that the jury is still out on how Americans perceive the Obama administration years from now.
As part of a series of events aimed at commemorating a century of Pulitzer Prize winners, The Washington Post hosted a discussion Friday on the successes and failures of the Obama administration so far.
It was one of the first events in the Post’s new headquarters. The Post’s live center was packed with spectators, many of them past Pulitzer Prize winners. After a short address from Martin Baron, the Washington Post executive editor, the journalists, including “All the President’s Men” writer Bob Woodward, took the stage to discuss “Viewing Barack Obama’s Presidency through the Lens of History.”
The conversation started tamely. David Maraniss, an associate editor at the Post who wrote a book about Obama, talked about how Obama looked back to history to try to figure out how to be a great president. Maraniss highlighted aspects of the president’s personality.
There was consensus that Obama is a smart man, but disagreement about whether that always turned out to be a good thing.
“He’s smart, but he’s failed to reach Congress,” moderator Jo Becker, from The New York Times, said.
“He has not connected with people,” said Woodward, one of the reporters who broke the Watergate story. He added that a senator once denied that to Woodward and told him the president had actually called him twice. “He told me not to say that in public because the other senators with zero calls will feel totally out of the loop.”
Paul Gigot, editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, introduced himself as as the “skunk” in the discussion because of his conservative views. “Didn’t you invite yourself?” Woodward said.
“He wants you to feel like he is smarter than you, like he’d beat you in an argument,” Gigot said of Obama.
Though the conversation was lively, it was clear that not even five highly respected and award-winning journalists agreed on the Obama administration’s performance. This was even clearer when the conversation turned to foreign policy.
“I’m unsure progress has been made on foreign policy and energy independence,” Danielle Allen, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, said.
“What he has done is going to be tested,” Woodward said. “We still don’t know about the big stories of this year.”
Gigot centered the conversation on the conflict in the Middle East.
“He viewed himself as the anti-Bush,” he said. “Syria is what happens when you look at a burning building and you say, I’m going to let it burn. The president has a real problem.”
Woodward, meanwhile, praised the Iran nuclear deal, but he added the country should have done more. “Obama doesn’t like war, he wants to avoid war,” he said.
“But still he got elected with a speech that said I’m not against all wars,” Maraniss said.
Becker asked if the war on leaks of information during Obama’s time has been the most aggressive since the Nixon administration, and if reporters still relied on them.
“No, leaks are when The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal have a good story” Woodward said.
He added that no one likes secrecy, and the issue of transparency still has ways to go, though he was “going to give the Nixon administration the Academy Award on that.”
Reach reporter Karina Meier at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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