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President Obama’s Last Press Conference Opened With a Pointed Emphasis on the Importance of a Free Press

I wonder who he was talking to.

Today was Barack Obama’s last press conference as President of the United States. I would definitely recommend taking a little time and watching the whole thing above. He covers a whole range of topics, from Chelsea Manning’s commuted sentence to his love for his family, to the myth of American voter fraud. (In a powerful moment, he traces voter suppression back to Jim Crow laws and straight-up says, “This is fake news.”)

But it’s the opening of the conference that I want to spend just a moment on. Because the way President Obama chose to open this meeting was a distressingly necessary statement on the importance of a free press.

Here are his words from the conference:

I have enjoyed working with all of you. That, of course, does not mean I enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that’s the point of this relationship. You are not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power, and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here, and you have done that. And you have done it, for the most part, in ways that I could appreciate for fairness, even if I didn’t always agree with your conclusions.

And having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest, it makes us work harder, it made us think about how we are doing what we do, and whether or not we’re able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents.

It’s hard to see these words as anything but a lengthy subtweet at an incoming administration that has made it clear they don’t share these basic American values, at a man who proposed removing the press from the White House altogether (before walking that at least partway back when the press “went crazy“).

I’ve spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment of self-government has to work. It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power.

So America needs you, and our democracy needs you. We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. So my hope is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us, to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories, getting them right, and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves, and to push this country to be the best version of itself.

I have no doubt that you will do so.

President Obama ended his speech with the words we all need right now.


(image via screengrab)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.

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