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Doris Kearns-Goodwin Denies Media's Been Soft on Obama

On Tuesday's The Lead, liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin dismissed the notion that the media is in President Obama's "pocket."

"I don't think the country would feel that his way of dealing with the country has been eased by the press," she lamented of Obama and the media. "I think the press is much more complicated today. I think ever since Watergate there's a more antagonistic view between presidents and press."

[Video below. Audio here.]

Kearns-Goodwin was on CNN to discuss her new book on Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  She explained how both used the "bully pulpit" and "put pressure on Congress" to carry out their "progressive" agenda.  

"Does he ever need to put pressure on a Congress," she said, wishing the President would be tougher. And when told by host Jake Tapper that "a lot of conservatives probably think that President Obama has a bunch of reporters in his pocket already," she didn't think so. In fact, she added, the President "needs them as a channel."

"It's good to have the tension, but I think you also need them as a channel," she said. And if you can make your peace with the fact that you're not going to be happy with everything they write, he should have press conferences a couple times a week. That's what FDR did."

Kearns-Goodwin has offered excuses for the shortcomings of various Democratic presidents. This past January, she claimed that Obama dealt with what "may have been the most difficult political culture that any president's had in a long period of time."

Last November, she complained that Clinton could have been more "productive" without the outrage over his affair with Monica Lewinski. "What would we have done if FDR had not been our leader because he had an affair with Lucy Mercer?" she also asked.

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on November 13 on The Lead at 4:55 p.m. EDT:

JAKE TAPPER: President Obama, a huge fan of your last book "Team of Rivals," obviously in the initial stages of his presidency. He had a lot of rivals, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, he tried to get a Republican senator Judd Gregg, et cetera. What lessons can he take from this book which is about how Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft worked with journalists to create the progressive era?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think the most important thing is what the term "bully pulpit" means, you've got the platform to mobilize the country, to put pressure on a Congress. Does he ever need to put pressure on a Congress, but you have to have a good relationship with the press to do it. Teddy had the most remarkable relationship. He let them in when he was having his shaving hour, the barber's hour. The poor barber was trying to shave him while he was talking to the press. They could come in when he was signing papers at the end of the day. They had lunch, they had dinner, they had breakfast with them. He was friends with the press.

TAPPER: And he actually was the first one to give the White House press a room in the White House.

KEARNS GOODWIN: Right. He saw that they were just standing outside in the rain so he thought it would be nice to give them a press room inside.

TAPPER: Where does politicians and journalists uniting to get rid of injustice end, and a politician using reporters begin?

KEARNS GOODWIN: That's a really good question. I think what made it work for him was that he was a fellow writer, so he really respected journalists. And they respected him. They could criticize one another, though. They kept their integrity. They would write things mean about him or bad about him, not sensational things, but they could criticize his remedies. He could criticize them, and that's what made it work. For example, one journalist wrote to him one time about his "Rough Rider" memoir, and they said he was so egotistical, it was as if he put himself in the center of every action. It should have been called "Alone In Cuba." He then writes the journalist, I regret to tell you my family loved your review of my book. Now you owe me. I want you to meet me. That's the attitude you have to have. It's a really thick skin.

TAPPER: A lot of conservatives probably think that President Obama has a bunch of reporters in his pocket already.

KEARNS GOODWIN: I don't think the country would feel that his way of dealing with the country has been eased by the press. I think the press is much more complicated today. I think ever since Watergate there's a more antagonistic view between presidents and press. It's good to have the tension, but I think you also need them as a channel. And if you can make your peace with the fact that you're not going to be happy with everything they write, he should have press conferences a couple times a week. That's what FDR did. Maybe you don't want to have them around all that time and now they're into your private lives in the ways they weren't in this time, but I think in the end in a democracy you can't get by without the press.

— Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matt Hadro on Twitter.