I like David Axelrod very much as a political adviser for Barack Obama. I have been less whelmed by him as an analyst on MSNBC. I find him bright and informative, but wildly subjective in his commentary. By contrast, Steve Schmidt, a former senior adviser to John McCain when he ran for president, is not only a very good, impressively objective analyst on MSNBC -- he may be my favorite analyst on MSNBC.
On Sunday, Bob Schieffer took the White House to task on Face the Nation on CBS, discussing the White House relationship with the media. In part, he said --
"It's reached the point that if I want to interview anyone in the administration on camera, from the lowest-level worker to a top White House official, I have to go through the White House press office. If their chosen spokesman turns out to have no direct connection to the story of the moment, as was the case when U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was sent out to explain the Benghazi episode, then that's what we, and you, the taxpayer, get. And it usually isn't much."
On Tuesday, Mr. Axelrod was a guest on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC. He thought little of Schieffer's opinion.
"I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter Certainly, as you guys have been talking about all morning, the notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something I find disturbing. But the notion that the public should be concerned or disturbed, or that the taxpayer's being cheated because Bob can't book the guests he wants, I'm unsympathetic to that."
Host Joe Scarborough asked, "Is Bob Schieffer a whiner?"
"Don't put words in my mouth," Axelrod answered. He then added, "I think he's doing from his perspective what he needs to do, which is book more guests on his show."
And what I think is that what David Axelrod is doing is protecting the back of his former boss.
I give David Axelrod a couple of small points for saying he was disturbed by the naming of a journalist as a co-conspirator. But his comments about Bob Schieffer's criticism are too surface simplistic to be anything but empty. There are legitimate defenses he could have suggested -- saying that all administrations control access to their staff, and that there are understandable reasons for this, which he could have stated. But it is a reasonable issue that Schieffer is making that the public is ill-served when there isn't open access to necessary information. And the CBS reporter's further point that when you try to control the message too much, as the White House did with Susan Rice, it can backfire on you and have problematic consequences, not just for the public, but for you yourself. David Axelrod ignored a meaningful discussion.
I'm not suggesting that Mr. Axelrod has to even criticize Barack Obama if he really doesn't think it's deserved. Just that his defense should be more substantive and thoughtful, and not the flaccid news bite a campaign director would give.
When David Axelrod gets more used to his new job, perhaps he'll be able to step back and be more thoughtful in his commentary. After all, it's the job he signed up for and is getting paid to do. Steve Schmidt does it serioulsly impressively. But for now, he's failing.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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