For some reason—probably to convey that he, like all other Americans, just loves to fire a gun—Obama told the New Republic that “we go skeet shooting all the time” at Camp David. Exactly who “we” is remains unclear; he specifically exempted his daughters but said that guests use the range at the presidential retreat often. Presumably, “we” means that he goes, too, and obviously, the president is lying. The president hates guns, as anyone who hates the president will tell you. To support this story, Fox News has found an anonymous source who says he has been to Camp David a half dozen times, yet only knows of Obama shooting skeet twice. Props to Ben al-Fowlkes for the link.
Lest you think I am trifling with minutiae, this story has set the conservative press absolutely aflame. Even the Washington Post fact checker blog has complained that it can find no photographic evidence of Obama skeet shooting, and it calls the White House’s silence on the matter “curious.” With varying degrees of dignity, pundits agree: until they see a picture of Obama firing a twelve gauge, there is no reason to believe he shoots.
Let us consider, for a moment, the premise of this story and what it says about the contemporary press. The assumption is that the president of the United States is lying unless he can provide photographic evidence that what he says is true. That is a terrifying level of skepticism, and it says something about the degree to which certain media outlets have adopted an attitude toward Obama that goes beyond adversarial and into scorched-earth. On the internet, “pics or it didn’t happen” is a joke. In the Washington Post blog, it’s an operating principle.
What’s worse about this story, though, is the degree to which it obscures something notable the president actually said. Besides the portion of his remarks that provides an opportunity for him to fail to prove that he is not a liar, Obama also said that “those who dismiss [the American tradition of gun sports] out of hand make a big mistake.”
Here is the president reaching out to legitimate gun enthusiasts, the same people the NRA is supposed to defend. Perhaps it was an empty gesture, but we have him on tape saying that he supports certain guns and their uses. That is the part of the story that is demonstrably true. It is also the part that has gotten no coverage whatsoever, in favor of the same blanket skepticism that animated the birther fiasco.
Compare this insistence on unimpeachable evidence to the enthusiasm with which Fox News has published the reports of one anonymous source. It is an ironclad rule of journalism that you can’t build a story around a single source, much less a nameless one. Winter gets around this problem by quoting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, which is like proving you’re straight by taking your sister to prom. What’s really audacious, though, is that Winter’s anonymous source says he has seen Obama shooting skeet.
The story is not even built around a nameless person who went to Camp David six times and never saw the president fire a gun. That would be an absurdly inconclusive report, but Fox cannot even manage that. Instead, they find an anonymous source who confirms that the Obama has shot skeet more than once, and they trumpet him as proof that the president is lying when he says he shoots “all the time.”
I assume Obama exaggerated his interest in skeet with that phrase. We have videos of him in the Oval Office not firing an over-under, so gotcha. It is disheartening to think that such nitpicking would be the center of our coverage of what the president said about guns, though, and it is depressingly comical that America’s most popular news source has picked such a shriveled nit. Surely, the sum journalists of our great nation are can be more principled than that. If they can’t, they could at least do a better job of being assholes.