Obama spoke at the presentation of the Toner Prize, named for Robin Toner, the first woman to be national political correspondent for The New York Times. During her nearly 25 years there, Toner covered five presidential campaigns. She passed away in 2008.
Obama said the No. 1 question he gets when traveling the world is “What is happening in America?” He said it’s because people abroad understand America is the place where you “can’t afford completely crazy politics,” and they care about the most powerful nation on earth functioning effectively.
“We are all invested in making this system work. We are all responsible for its success, and it’s not just for the United States that this matters, it matters for the planet,” Obama said.
Obama called on media networks and producers to give reporters room to follow their instincts and dig deeper. He said Toner proved that just because something is substantive, doesn’t mean it lacks interest.
“A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It’s to probe and to question and to dig deeper and to demand more,” Obama said. “The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they cannot keep.”
Obama says he understands there are pressures “to feed the beast” with more gossipy, softer stories, but that leads to consumers failing to understand the world as well as they should, which has consequences for the country.
The Toner Prize was awarded to ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis for stories on campaign finance, lobbying and other influences on politics and governance.