Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Clearing Up A Misperception

I've seen this misread by people just looking at the headlines of articles and virtually nobody's actually gotten the specifics right.

You've probably seen reports that President Obama would like to know "whose ass to kick" regarding the BP spill. It's always headlined pretty much just how I just said it. Take this ABC article. The headline reads:

Obama Says He Would Fire BP CEO, Wants to Know 'Whose Ass to Kick'

Everybody seems to have fixated on the second half: he wants to know whose ass to kick. This presents a narrative that he in fact does not yet know whose ass he wants to kick. Look at the first half, though, and you'll see that he already knows full well: unsurprisingly, BP CEO Tony Hayward's.
In light of Hayward's comments that the environmental impact would be "modest" and he wanted his "life back ," the president told NBC News that Hayward "wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements."

In the interview that aired today, Obama defended his decision not to speak with Hayward.

"I have not spoken to him directly," Obama said. "Here's the reason. Because my experience is, when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he's going to say all the right things to me. I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions."

Sounds pretty definitive. Sounds like he knows. So how did we get to an assumption that, somehow, Obama does not yet know whose ass to kick?

Probably a race to create a soundbite that removed the context of what Obama said. Let's take the full quote, immediately below the previous excerpt, and we'll bold the soundbite...
Obama also leveled his anger at those who criticized the way he has handled the crisis, saying he was there long before "most of these talking heads were even paying attention.

"I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar," he said. "We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."

In-context, it's a whole new message that a four-word soundbite can't convey.

Let's do a bit better out there, shall we? Or at least read the entire article first?

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