PR for Empire: Obama Meets Secretly with the Commentariat

On the afternoon of 10 September 2014, mere hours before divulging his new Iraq policy (read: calling for an expanded war on ISIS), President Obama secretly met with the leading members of the US commentariat.

“Public Relations for Empire,” they should call it.

Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in the off-the-record session. The Huffington Post, whom an anonymous source informed about the secret meeting, requested a comment from the Obama administration; it declined.

The motley crew, essentially the most prominent representatives of the establishment US intelligentsia all in one place, at one time, consisted of the following:


The New York Times:
David Brooks
Tom Friedman
Frank Bruni
Carol Giacomo

The Washington Post:
David Ignatius
Eugene Robinson
Ruth Marcus

The Atlantic:
Jeffrey Goldberg
Peter Beinart

The Wall Street Journal:
Jerry Seib

The New Yorker:
Dexter Filkins
George Packer

The New Republic:
Julia Ioffe

The Daily Beast:
Michael Tomasky

Columbia Journalism School:
Dean Steve Coll

The list is almost comical in how directly it parallels the “intellectual” bourgeoisie. It’s kind of like a list of all the popular kids in high school—except it’s not high school; it’s the corporate media, and these popular kids have sway over what millions of Americans (and non-Americans) read.

It’s telling that most of these figures are not even “journalists,” frankly; they are pundits. Leading US pundits. The leading US pundits. Most of whom enthusiastically support the Obama administration—so they would only naturally oblige when their Charismatic Leader summons them to write up some good agitprop. (One cannot help but imagine a cartoonish scene, Obama blowing a dog whistle—one silent to our measly proletarian ears, relaying a message only they can hear—and the commentariat canines, panting and slobbering, scurrying obediently to the White House for their off-the-record rendezvous.)

The Huffington Post notes that such covert social engineering, I mean public relations meetings are not new:

throughout his presidency, [Obama] has used smaller, private meetings with influential columnists and commentators as a way to explain his positions before rolling out major foreign and domestic policy decisions.

It links a Politico report from all the way back in March 2009 about “How Obama plays the pundits.”

Obama is a smart guy. Whereas his presidential predecessor would just brazenly declare war and invade a country, regardless of popular national and international opinion, Obama declares war (on the same country) but ensures that popular national opinion echoes his calls (international opinion is still largely not even on the table, relegated to the status of a mere inconvenience at best).

Meeting with the commentariat “to explain his positions before rolling out major foreign and domestic policy decisions,” is perhaps one way to describe it. I, however, would see it as a way to manage any potentially unruly influential members of the press, to ensure that they’re reporting what you want them to report, what shines well on you—not to mention as a way to simply build close relationships with powerful members of the intelligentsia, as any ruling power is wont to do.

Disobedient journalists are awfully inconvenient; they just might challenge power. Obama is just another leader, in a long, long line, who spends a lot of time trying to manage his public image by jumping into bed with unctuous commanders of the contemporary commentariat.

Reprise: “PR for Empire.”