America’s abandonment of its values and the media’s obsession over the juicy bits of hacked DNC emails are far more dangerous to the country than Russia having actually been behind the hack, President Obama warned today in his last news conference of the year.
Obama sought to rise above the whirling tweets-and-leaks storm over Russia’s hack of Democratic National Committee emails, and the Donald Trump transition, and make a moment for himself in the history books. Like Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the dangers of a U.S. “military industrial complex” on his way out the White House.
How did a presidential election “come to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks?” What “made us vulnerable to these types of interventions?” Obama scolded media attending his the traditional POTUS year-end presser at the White House today.
We did this to ourselves, Obama said, answering his own question, while strongly implying that the conservative TV/radio talk-o-sphere had a big hand in it all. “The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. … But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are.”
Losing track like, for instance, “buying into notions that it is OK to intimidate the press or lock up immigrants or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like.”
For more evidence, he cited a recent poll that showed 37% of Republicans approve of Russian President Vladimir Putin “the former head of the KGB,” Obama marveled, adding, “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.”
For Obama, that’s the result of those on the right seeing everything “for how does it help or hurt us relative to Democrats or relative to President Obama.”
Not that the hacks were all inside our heads: Obama said he told Putin in a face-to-face meeting in China to “cut it out and there would be some serious consequences if he didn’t. And in fact, we did not see further tampering with the election process.”
Obama said he delivered a similar message to Chinese President Xi regarding the hacking of American companies by China.
The traditional year-end event was expected to be a barn burner, given the week’s developments, and did not disappoint. In anticipation, it was mobbed – so much so that one reporter fainted and the event came to a temporary halt while medical help was sought.
“Go through the facts,” Obama said to questions about what he knew and when, and what he did and why in re the hack of DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails.
When alerted that the DNC might have been hacked, Obama had ordered a thorough investigation. It was a deliberate decision, and the right one, not to ascribe motive to the Russian hack, Obama said, “We simply let people know” what the facts were because in our country’s “hyper-partisan” era, it’s important that POTUS not get involved in the politics.
“We were playing this thing straight,” he said during what he annually calls “The Most Wonderful Press Conference of the Year,” before leaving later today with his family on their annual Christmas trip to Hawaii.
Obama declined to conclude the hack caused Clinton’s election loss but blasted the media for making major headlines of “every juicy tidbit of gossip” to come out of the WikiLeaks dump, calling it “an obsession that dominated the news coverage” of the election.
That media obsession with the juicy bits is “part of what I meant when I said we’ve got to think about what’s happening to our political culture here,” Obama said. ” The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us; they’re a smaller country, they’re a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anyone wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values.”
POTUS stopped short of saying the hacking cost Clinton the election, instead leaving that to the political pundits, he said. “She has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and I don’t think she was treated fairly during the election,” he said, calling the media’s coverage of Clinton and her campaign “troubling.”
Warming up for today’s humdinger of a news conference, Obama spoke to NPR about the U.S. taking retaliatory action against Russia in response to election interference.
“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections, we need to take action — and we will, at a time and place of our own choosing,” he said in the radio interview that aired Thursday night. “Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be.”
This week the CIA announced it had determined there was direct Russian involvement in the DNC email hacks, with Putin’s thumbs-up, in an attempt to nuke Clinton’s campaign and help get Trump elected. Trump has called that finding “ridiculous” and questioned why the Obama administration did not express concern at the time.
Various news outlets have answered that one. “They didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it,” as NBC News put it.
Not coincidentally, CBS News decided that the clip of its much longer primetime interview with First Lady Michelle Obama it would show to viewers just a few hours before POTUS’ White House presser should be the one in which she says, “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like, you know?”
People will come to appreciate the value of “having a grownup in the White House who can say to you in times of crisis and turmoil, ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK. Let’s remember the good things that we have,’” FLOTUS told Oprah Winfrey in the interview to air in full next week on CBS’ primetime.