By Justin Sink - 08/22/14 03:44 PM EDT
Leisure activities like golf "are a good way for release and clearing of the mind," the White House said Friday, amid criticism over the optics of President Obama hitting the links just minutes after delivering a speech on the death of journalist Jim Foley at the hands of Islamist militants.
Spokesman Eric Schultz told journalists traveling with the president during his Martha's Vineyard, Mass., vacation that he didn't want to speak to "the president's mindset" on why he decided to head to the golf course on Wednesday.
"I will say that, generally, I think that, you know, sports and leisure activities are a good way for release and clearing of the mind for a lot of us," Schultz said.
The White House spokesman also said that "first and foremost," Obama was focused on doing his job while spending nearly two weeks on the tony Massachusetts island.
"I don’t think anyone in this room who’s been covering this or following the president for the past few weeks could deny that the president’s been deeply engaged on issues both domestic and abroad," Schultz said. "It’s important for us to understand, and I think that’s been evident … that the issues the country’s facing, both on the international stage and back here at home, have absolutely captured the president’s attention while we’ve been here."
On Friday, The New York Times ran a front-page story detailing criticism of the president's decision to go golfing.
“As a general rule, I think that he’s right that you can’t be held hostage to the news cycle — the man deserves a bit of downtime,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told the paper. “But in this particular instance, I think a lot of Democrats flinched a little bit.”
Schultz said, "anyone trying to assess how seriously he takes the gravity of that situation" should go back and watch the president's remarks on Foley's death.
"It was delivered from the heart. It was candid. It was honest, and it was open," Schultz said.
Obama appeared to forgo the golf course on Friday, opting instead for a hike with first lady Michelle Obama.