President Obama Defends the Press in His Final Press Conference

A covert message for the incoming president?

Who was the real audience for President Obama’s final press conference, we had ourselves wondering as POTUS stood before the White House press corps in his capacity as president of the United States one last time.

After beginning with remarks about former President George H.W. Bush, currently in the hospital, the president, for the remainder of his prepared remarks, went into what was essentially a thank you note to the press, one that managed, at the same time, to serve as a response to every criticism that President-Elect Trump has levied against the press during and after his election campaign, on every platform he could, whether physical or digital.

“I have enjoyed working with all of you,” the president began. “That does not of course mean that I’ve enjoyed every story that you have filed but that’s the point of this relationship.” Thus continued the speech wrapped in a lesson on the role of the press, with Trump seemingly serving as its intended student:

You’re not supposed to be sycophants. You’re supposed to be skeptics; you’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power, and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here, and you have done that.

And you have done it, for the most part, in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I did not always agree with your conclusions.

President Obama also made the case for keeping the press in the White House, in opposition to a plan to move them out that the incoming administration had briefly considered:

Having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest, it makes us work harder, it made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we’re able to deliver what’s been requested by our constituents.

He concluded with a reaffirmation of the particular role the press plays in a democracy, and a distillation of the relationship between facts and opinions, not as two adversarial ideas, but one in which facts serve as the foundation on which opinions are built:

I’ve spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self-government has to work. It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power, so America needs you and our democracy needs you. We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so my hope is is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves and to push this country to be the best version of itself.