By Justin Sink
The news media “absolutely” overstates the risks of terrorism because stories about things like climate change aren’t “sexy” and don’t drive ratings, President Obama said in an interview published Monday.
“What's the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right?” Obama told Vox. “You show crime stories and you show fires, because that's what folks watch, and it's all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that's the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs.”
Obama said there was not going to be “a lot of interest” in stories showing positive progress on issues like infant mortality or improving productivity for farmers.
“It's not a sexy story,” Obama said. “And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it's a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.”
The interview with the Web startup, known for its explainer-style journalism, is the latest attempt by the White House to circumvent traditional media. In recent weeks, the president sat for interviews with prominent YouTube video bloggers and on Tuesday will be interviewed by BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.
Aides have described the effort as an attempt to reach new audiences — and particularly millennials — who might not otherwise be paying attention to the president’s message. That effort has taken on an increasing degree of difficulty in the president’s seventh year in office.
In the interview with Vox, Obama said that the risk of the “balkanization” of the media is that it allowed people to focus only on stories that reaffirmed their existing world views.
“I’m not the first to observe this, but you've got the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh folks, and then you've got the MSNBC folks and the — I don't know where Vox falls into that, but you guys are, I guess, for the brainiac-nerd types,” Obama said. “But the point is that technology, which brings the world to us, also allows us to narrow our point of view.”
Obama pitched his interview with YouTube as an opportunity to reach “viewers who don't want to be put in some particular camp.”
At the same time, Obama said there were “structural” efforts that could be made to decrease polarization and help improve efficiency in Washington. The president called, as he has before, for changes to the Constitution that would allow more intense regulation of campaign spending, as well as changes on the state level to reduce gerrymandering.
But Obama also said that, despite those challenges, the nation had been “pretty polarized” in the past, as well.
“I think there just wasn't polling around,” Obama said. “As I recall, there was a whole civil war — that was a good example of polarization that took place.”