The hour-long conversation was a typical example of a broadcast journalist failing to hold a powerful politician accountable
Were I an adviser to President Obama, I'd urge him to give his next exclusive to Kroft too, for there is a superficial toughness to his interviews. "There are people in your own party who think that you were outmaneuvered. That you were stared down by John Boehner and Grover Norquist and capitulated," Kroft says at one point. Later he notes that "You say that you rallied the country, but these poll numbers show otherwise. They show that 75 percent thinks the country's on the wrong track." As a political operative, these are exactly the sorts of questions I'd want the struggling politician for whom I worked to get, because it appears that he has volunteered to sit down with a tough interviewer, but actually he is being given an opportunity to offer free-ranging explanations for something that no one can deny: lots of people in America are unhappy with him.
As a journalist at a non-broadcast outlet, I am frustrated by interviews like this one. Few journalists (and zero non-journalist citizens) are afforded an opportunity to spend an hour asking anything of the president, and fewer still who enjoy a mass audience as big as 60 Minutes, which bills its broadcasts as "hard-hitting." It is therefore disheartening each time the opportunity is squandered with broad, superficial, softball questions:
KROFT: You definitely have some impressive accomplishments.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, Steve.
KROFT: No, you do. And more than a lot of presidents who manage to get reelected. My question is, is it enough? Why do you think you deserve to be reelected?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think under some extraordinary circumstances, we not only saved the country from a potential disaster -- not only did we manage our national security at a time where there were severe threats and two wars going on, in a way that has made America stronger and more respected and put us in a better strategic position around the world and almost decimated our number one enemy, which is al Qaeda -- but what I've also been able to do is to, in very practical ways, put in place a series of steps that will allow middle-class families and those trying to get in the middle class to take back some of what they've lost over the last couple of years. Now, we're not there yet, but what I can say unequivocally is that everything I've done, every single day, and everything I will do as long as I'm in this office is designed to make sure that every kid in America has the same opportunities that I had.
Given a fleeting hour with a president who is avowedly seeking re-election, how can a journalist possibly justify that exchange? Of course he's going to say yes, he deserves to be reelected, and then repeat his familiar messaging. In the course of the next year, as President Obama stumps all over the nation and otherwise campaigns for re-election, there is zero chance that the American public will be deprived of his argument for why he deserves another term.
It would be forgivable if that question were surrounded by better ones. But much of the interview is flawed in similar ways.