"The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?" the NYT reporter asked.
To which Obama answered, "The answer would be no."
It's sad to see reporters for the NYT wasting valuable time with the President pursuing efforts to label his policies with an outmoded term like "socialist." The word came up during the campaign by conservatives looking to smear the Democrat with a linguistic weapon that has no real meaning in the current political context.
It's clear that Obama was annoyed by it, and rightly so.
Listening to the audio excerpts of the NYT interview -- which conveniently don't include the original "socialist" question, perhaps so we won't know which of the four NYT reporters present asked it -- we can then hear a male reporter asking a followup:
"Is there anything wrong with saying yes?" an unidentified NYT reporter asked.
The NYT's Jeff Zeleny kept pursuing the label question, though, even after Obama's detailed deconstruction of his spending policies:
Q. Is there one word name for your philosophy? If you’re not a socialist, are you a liberal? Are you progressive? One word?
A. No, I’m not going to engage in that.
Shortly after he returned to the White House, Obama called the NYT to follow up.
“It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question,” Obama told NYT White House reporter Jeff Zeleny.
The NYT took the followup as an occasion to brag that the president called: on its Caucus blog yesterday afternoon at 5:41 p.m., the NYT posted news of the call under the headline, "Obama's Got Our Number."
Obama went on to implicate the policies of George W. Bush as part of what's now perceived by conservatives as a socialist spending approach, and his answer deftly took apart the theory.
But really, what did the NYT think it would accomplish by wasting valuable time pursuing questions about a political label? The country faces far more serious problems than the prospect that our president might fit the textbook definition of any given term -- socialist, liberal, or progressive.
Zeleny and his team should be ashamed of themselves for wasting so much time in a 35-minute interview with questions designed only to promote headlines, not news.
"Our journalism has never been more glorious."
--Jill Abramson, managing editor, The New York Times, January 7, 2009