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Jon Meacham: Media Would Have 'Barbecued' Bush If He Did NCAA Brackets During Crises

Jon Meacham, the liberal host of PBS's Need to Know, frankly admitted Thursday that media scrutiny of President Bush would far surpass the mild criticism of Barack Obama when it comes to a 10-minute ESPN segment on the President filling out his NCAA Tournament bracket.

Stalwart liberals such as MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) agreed.

"My only point is that Bush would have gotten more barbecued for this," Meacham claimed on Morning Joe Thursday. "Anyone who thinks that he didn't - he wouldn't - is crazy." The panel was debating the merits of President Obama appearing on ESPN to discuss basketball while Libya is in turmoil and Japan is facing a possible nuclear catastrophe.

Even liberal co-host Mika Brzezinski echoed Meacham's sentiments, and actually brought up the original question. "The President doing his brackets yesterday, and then going to a fundraiser - would we be more critical if this was George W. Bush?" she surprisingly asked.

Newsom agreed that the media would have been tougher on Bush but excused Obama for his actions. "You can do more than one thing in a day," he remarked. "I think it's a positive thing for the President to connect on that level."

The outspoken former CNBC host Donny Deutsch took that thought a step further.

The veteran advertising executive countered that many thought Bush as disengaged from the crises of the job, while most believe Obama to be engaged in the tasks of the presidency. He added later that as a chairman of a business, Deutsch, Inc., a leader needs to appear calm and normal in the midst of a crisis, and that ESPN bracketology helps Obama to do just that.

The panel didn't buy that and voiced its disagreement.

"Americans are not reassured by his picking," Meacham sounded off. Co-host Joe Scarborough thought Deutsch's assessment was incorrect and claimed that Obama looks disengaged while filling out brackets during two international crises.

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired on March 17 at 7:11 a.m., is as follows:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I've just got a question for the group, and Gavin, I'll throw this out to you, but if anyone has an idea - I just wonder about the optics here, maybe this is too critical because things have to go on, the country has to function. But the President doing his brackets yesterday, and then going to a fundraiser - would we be more critical if this was George W. Bush?

(...)

GAVIN NEWSOM: I think we'd be more critical, but you can do more than one thing in a day. And I think it becomes - we're so hyperbolic, and it's unfair - if you're in the White House, are you going to sit around all day just waiting for that one photo-op to call in the Prime Minister and say "Boy, we really were engaged today." Or are you going to move on with other things in life - and I think it's one of the nice things the President does, it makes him more humane, it connects him to a broader group of folks and makes him more of a real person, and I think it's a positive thing for the President to connect on that level.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Jon Meacham, you said that George W. Bush, had he done these things, would have been criticized. Why is that?

JON MEACHAM: Sure. Because the prevailing media narrative in the Bush years, was that he was isolated and interested in his exercise, and projecting power.

BRZEZINSKI: Getting to beddy-bye at nine. Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: And ESPN.

MEACHAM: And ESPN, and watching ESPN. And so unquestionably, George W. Bush would be criticized more harshly for this sort of thing than Barack Obama is.

DONNY DEUTSCH: Because there was the belief, and a lot of truth that he was disengaged. I don't think Pete, whether you like Barack Obama or not, I don't think anybody thinks this guy is disengaged. You know, I've said a lot that I think he is too exposed in certain ways, that in certain way kind of takes down the mantle of the Presidency. But I want to caveat that and say, you know - and to Gavin's point - I think Americans are smart. And I think Americans clearly can understand that if you spend the eight or nine minutes, maybe giving the Americans some relief, maybe connecting on a level of humanity, that does not take away what he's doing in (Crosstalk)

BRZEZINSKI: We're pretty clueless though -

MEACHAM: Americans are not reassured by his picking (Crosstalk)

SCARBOROUGH: No, no, Donny, Donny - the one thing this White House has not figured out is the symbolic value of being President, the theater of being President, and yes we all know he can pick his brackets. But it's what do you do in front of the cameras? And I can tell you, when most Americans are connecting on an international crisis and talking about a nuclear meltdown in possibly four, five, six reactors, I can tell you it is not assuring to Americans.

(...)

SCARBOROUGH: We are in just terrible times, and the President's doing NCAA brackets. Again, I'm just talking about the symbolism. We all know we can do that.

(...)

JON MEACHAM: My only point is Bush would have gotten more barbecued for this -

BRZEZINSKI: Totally.

MEACHAM: - and anyone who things that he didn't, he wouldn't, is crazy.

- Matt Hadro