I just got around to reading the Tuesday op-ed by Richard Cohen that has been kicked around by many in the bloggosphere suggesting that Barack Obama open up a newspaper to avoid being caught in “The Bubble” created by the Presidency. So, Richard Cohen describes the phenomenon and moves toward the conclusion of his argument:
For some odd reason, Obama has fastened on to his BlackBerry as an antidote to The Bubble. It won’t work. When the BlackBerry is valued for e-mail, it is no different from staff. It will be only as candid as the people on the other end. The First BlackBerry will lie.
For one thing, Barack Obama is likely going to give up his BlackBerry because the Presidential Records Act turns all correspondence into part of the public record, which given the shear volume of information typically sent using a BlackBerry, could be embarrassing.
Anyway, Cohen’s op-ed is mainly hypothetical, not that there’s anything wrong with that as long as your larger point is sound, but it’s not. Just because email is one function of a blackberry does not, in fact, imply that it is the only function or that it’s necessarily an impediment, which I will get to below.
There is a remedy of sorts. It is called The Newspaper. It’s somewhat antiquated and often awkward to use, but it will bring news to the president he does not want to hear. The paper is not written with him in mind. The paper does not set out to please him, and it is not seeking a job. The paper will give the president more policy options than his staff will, and more news as well. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower responded to a question at a news conference by saying, “You are telling me things about my administration that I have never heard.” This is what a newspaper does.
Well, that’s what a Newspaper did in 1956. Certainly having a wealth of views, reports, and opinions can keep one from becoming too isolated in their opinions, but in no sense is that wealth of opinions solely tied to newspapers. The Internet is an excellent repository of information, and most newspapers have moved their material online to adjust to the times. Heck, I even read this technophobic article online. And it continues to go downhill:
A BlackBerry is of limited utility. You cannot have a hearty family breakfast with everyone gathered around the BlackBerry. But with a good newspaper, the president could read the hard-news section, the first lady could adhere to gender orthodoxy and read the softer sections, and the kids could chuckle at the comics. Just as in the old movies, papa could explain things, like what’s the purpose of NATO anymore. (I’m dying to know this myself.) Not all newspapers have comic sections, but even those that don’t usually have sports pages and business columns.
WTF? It appears that the point of this article is to express the nostalgia that Richard Cohen had for a time that made sense to him in terms that are utterly unrealistic. Why should it be a good thing that “the first lady could adhere to gender orthodoxy and read the softer sections”. I don’t get it. Certainly men and women tend to have different interests, but do we really need the gender paradigms of the 1950s to help play that out? And then it becomes absolutely clear that Richard Cohen doesn’t know what a BlackBerry is:
A high-quality newspaper is a repository of leaks. Presidents don’t care for leaks, but like awful-tasting medicine, leaks are good for presidents. Leaks are an important way that one part of the government can communicate with another. An assistant Cabinet secretary cannot pick up the phone and call the president. His boss won’t let him. His boss might block something the president should know. This is where leaks come in. The low-level guy leaks the information to a newspaper and the president reads about it at breakfast. This cannot happen with a BlackBerry.
Um, Blackberrys can access the Internet. I’m sure if he wanted to, Barack Obama could have read Richard Cohen’s op-ed on his BlackBerry, though I’m sure he would have found it to be a colossal waste of time. I do like the last line, though:
I take subscriptions.