In mid-January 2009, just a week before his first inaugural, then-President-Elect Obama did something slightly unexpected: he had dinner with a bunch of conservative pundits. Though it's largely been forgotten, and the outreach didn't seem to have much of an effect, Obama invested some time that evening chatting up prominent media voices on the right, including Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, George Will, and David Brooks.
Yesterday, the president didn't host a dinner, though he nevertheless chatted with another group of prominent figures from conservative media.
President Obama held an off-the-record meeting with five conservative journalists on Tuesday afternoon.Present at the meeting were Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor; Paul Gigot, the Wall Street Journal editorial page editor; Robert Costa, the National Review's Washington editor; syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker; and Washington Examiner columnist Byron York, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
I think it's rather admirable of Obama to value ideological diversity like this. It'd be easy for him to assume conservative pundits like these will never give him a fair shake and just write them off, but he instead chooses to engage and discuss. Good for him -- even if he doesn't persuade them, even if this has no effect on whether they're inclined to give him the benefit of doubt on anything, I tend to believe there's value in the exchange of ideas.
The right has never been willing to believe this, and it may seem ironic given developments on Capitol Hill in recent years, but this really is a president -- for good or ill -- who's always been interested in bridging divides.
For the record, I can't find any evidence that George W. Bush ever hosted a visit like this for center-left pundits or media figures at his White House.
But what I've found especially interesting today is the reaction from both sides. The left, as best as I can tell, didn't much care that Obama spent some time visiting with conservative journalists. I rather doubt many progressives are worried that Krauthammer might have persuaded the president to agree with him.
But the reaction from some corners of the right has been rather unkind.
This, for example, struck me as a little excessive.
To be sure, there were some on the right who were not happy with the session."A clear attempt to woo largely establishment conservative commentators who have loudly opposed the GOP's current government shutdown strategy," Breitbart's Ben Shapiro wrote after conservative commentators Charles Krauthammer, Paul Gigot, Kathleen Parker and Byron York along with National Review DC editor Robert Costa sat with Obama for an off-the-record session that reportedly lasted 90 minutes."This is hardly the first time Obama has held select, politically-motivated off-the-record sessions," Shapiro wrote.
A site called Right Wing News added that the conservative journalists who met with the president are "all knowingly or unwittingly media tools for Obama to wield."