Obama’s ‘Manhood Problem’–and Media’s Humanity Problem

Funeral of Afghan children killed in US airstrike

How do the parents of children killed in US airstrikes evaluate Obama’s “manhood”?

NBC‘s Meet the Press has made it a regular habit to complain about how some world leaders don’t seem to do what Barack Obama says he wants them to do (FAIR Blog, 3/3/14). So maybe it’s no surprise that it’d do it again, and somehow make the whole thing even more offensive. 

Right-leaning pundit David Brooks was on hand  on April 20 to share this pearl of wisdom: 

Let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a–I’ll say it crudely–a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the Middle East, there’s an assumption he’s not tough enough. 

There have been plenty of reactions to Brooks’ comments (Think Progress,4/20/14Crooks & Liars, 4/20/14).  There are obviously some absurd, arguably racist assumptions Brooks is making about “manhood” and what people in the “Middle East” think that means.  But it is important to make a different kind of point about this.

The implicit message is that Obama either doesn’t use–or threaten to use–military force often enough, and in elite political/media circles, this line of analysis, while not often so crudely expressed, is considered normal. And that’s part of the problem.

Jim Naureckas noted (FAIR Blog, 8/30/13) that while Time magazine mused about Obama’s supposed hesitation to use military force, Obama’s record should speak for itself: a massive surge of US troops in Afghanistan to escalate that war, NATO airstrikes in Libya, and continued drone attacks in several countries.  Indeed, one of the main foreign policy stories the morning of Brooks’ comments were a series of attacks in Yemen that seemed to be be US drone attacks. 

The acceptability of this bizarre notion that Obama isn’t “tough enough” would explain why no one on Meet the Press really blinked at Brooks’ comments. In fact, the only response, from NBC reporter Chuck Todd, was a kind of agreement:

By the way, internally, they fear this. You know, it’s not just [Republican Sen.] Bob Corker saying it, OK, questioning whether the president is being alpha male. That’s essentially what he’s saying: “He’s not alpha dog enough. His rhetoric isn’t tough enough.” They agree with the policy decisions that they’re making. Nobody is saying–but it is sort of the rhetoric. Internally, this is a question.

It’s conventional to see pundits on TV news shows offering up these kinds of opinions. It’s hard to imagine someone appearing with any regularity who might make the case that Obama is too willing to use military force.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.