How the media shapes the debate is "one of the biggest factors" in determining whether his second-term priorities have a fighting chance of survival in Washington, President Obama said.
In a sit-down interview with The New Republic, Obama covered an array of themes likely to define the beginning of his second term, and reflected on the role of the media in shaping the political conversation during his first four years in office. Lawmakers, he argued, would be more willing to compromise if they did not have to worry about their media image.
"Nobody gets on TV saying, 'I agree with my colleague from the other party.' People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things," Obama said.
To prove his point, the president said he felt House Speaker John Boehner "genuinely wanted to get a deal done" on the fiscal cliff, but had his hands tied in balancing the expectations of extremists within his caucus. Obama said lawmakers during the negotiations were unwilling to compromise for fear of becoming vulnerable to attacks from members of their own party.
"If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it," he added.
The president went on to warn of false equivalencies in how reporters cover the Beltway under the guise of impartiality and objectivity. While Democrats can also be culprits of partisan gridlock, Obama argued they could not be equally compared to the obstructionism seen on the right.
"I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word," he said. "And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this--are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done."