The latest effort to discredit Jodi Kantor's new book The Obamas suggests that critics of the White House tome are grasping at straws to impugn its veracity. Yesterday, Politico's Mike Allen reported that a "list of alleged errors" in the book was circulating, which BuzzFeed published later in the day. The latest version of the attack list, which has been widely distributed to reporters on background but we can't say by who, slams Kantor's book for inaccurately reporting on an expression President Obama made during a speech in 2010.
"POTUS DISTINCTIVE FROWN ACTUALLY A SMILE" reads the document. The dispute refers to a passage in which Kantor is describing a speech President Obama gave following the 2010 midterm elections after Democrats were "shellacked" by Republicans who gained control of the House. Detailing the speech, Kantor homes in on the president's face for dramatic effect:
'Some election nights are more fun than others,’ the president said at the beginning of his press conference the next day…Then he acknowledged something he had never said in public before. ‘The relationship I’ve had with the American people is one that built slowly, peaked at this incredible high, and has gotten rockier,’ he said. With that, the lines on his face deepened, the corners of his mouth sank, and his gaze dropped downward. By Obama standards, it was an uncommon display of vulnerability, a frown so distinctive that it made the front page of newspapers the next day.” [274-75]
The heavy frown Kantor references is from a widely-published Associated Press photograph that shows an abundantly melancholy Obama, above, dated Nov. 3, 2010, the day of the speech. But not so fast! says the error list. At what time was Obama making the sad face? The list reads: "Footage of the President’s press conference, aired widely and posted to WH.gov, suggests a different tone preceding and succeeding this moment." The list goes on to feature three photographs showing President Obama smiling and smirking between the speech's 54:00 and 56:00 mark:
My gosh! The president doesn't seem to be upset at all.
So is Kantor wrong and her attackers right? Interestingly, they're both wrong. The attack list also doesn't manage to home in on the correct moment when Obama uttered the word "rockier." See for yourself. In the clip here, President Obama delivers the speech in question and the line comes at 54:35 mark. Unfortunately, for both sides, the actual expression is a boring, neutral face of little significance:
Either way, in journalism, an inaccuracy is an inaccuracy and the next edition of the book should correct it. Still, if the dispute about Kantor's The Obamas revolves around the face President Obama made two years ago and opponents of the book are splitting the tiniest hairs in their bid to produce a sense that the book has problems—it doesn't bode well for the critics. If this (and the other reasons) are the best they (again, we can't say exactly who, it's on background) can do, Kantor probably has little to worry about. Especially considering BuzzFeed's fact-checking of the other attacks on the book which amount to the placement of "two events in the wrong month of the summer of 2010" and getting the color wrong of Michelle Obama's dress. As for Kantor, she doesn't appear to be too worried about the attacks. She tweets: