Sullivan poked fun at the 44th president for becoming a “media critic” amid the launch of his book tour, but pointed out that he has a “credibility problem” as he attempts to weigh in on how to restore trust in the media and combat the spread of misinformation.
Obama suggested that perhaps the solution falls on local journalists to “separate truth from fiction” since “we don’t have a Walter Cronkite,” some of observations that Sullivan agreed with.
“But before we herald the former president as some sort of media visionary, let’s cast our minds back to his own administration’s record with the press,” Sullivan wrote. “Here’s how I’d sum it up: Not great.”
The columnist began by insisting Obama “did not deliver” on his promise of being “the most transparent administration in American history,” pointing to his administration’s record-breaking rejections of Freedom of Information Act requests. She also determined that Obama was “Transparency Lite,” something she described as his availability for interviews with “celebrity conversationalists who pitched softball questions,” citing his sitdown with TV chef Anthony Bourdain and “Between Two Ferns” host Zach Galifianakis rather than more serious, hard-hitting interviews.
“Great for brand-building. Not so great for serious accountability,” Sullivan commented.
Sullivan insisted, though, “that wasn’t the worst of it,” listing how Obama’s Department of Justice targeted journalists in pursuit of government sources, including former Fox News correspondent James Rosen, who the DOJ once deemed a “co-conspirator.”
She then quoted James Risen, who was serving as a New York Times investigative reporter and was similarly targeted by Obama’s Justice Department.
“If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama,” Risen had written in 2016.
Sullivan concluded, “I’m glad that Obama sees the mess we’re in now. And I heartily agree with his emphasis on local journalism and the way rampant misinformation is damaging our democracy. But I haven’t forgotten what happened when he was in charge.”