Obama says the death of local newspapers makes it difficult for politicians' ideas to 'break through' and that there's no longer a 'common baseline of fact'

  • Former president Barack Obama said in an interview with The Atlantic published on Monday that the death of local media across the US makes it difficult for politicians to overcome negative filters.
  • In 2008, Obama said that he "could go into culturally conservative, rural or small-town, disproportionately white working-class communities" and "win those votes."
  • The former president was dismayed that there was no longer "a common baseline of fact," with many people choosing to ignore the truth if it goes against their political beliefs.
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Former president Barack Obama said in an interview with The Atlantic published on Monday that the death of local media across the US makes it difficult for politicians to "break through" in an increasingly polarized national landscape.

In a lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine's editor-in-chief, Obama described how he was able visit rural localities in downstate Illinois and Iowa and successfully campaign due to minimal negative filters.

"I could go into culturally conservative, rural or small-town, disproportionately white working-class communities and I could make a connection, and I could win those votes," he said. "The reason I could is that I didn't have a filter between me and them."

Obama discussed the dangers of being seen as a towering national figure instead of someone who understands the daily concerns of average people, especially in areas that have been left behind economically.

"What happens is that they see you through the dominant filters and news sources, and those news sources have changed," he said.

The local media, Obama added, played a major role in how national candidates were perceived, especially as he competed in Republican-leaning states.

"Even as late as 2008, typically when I went into a small town, there's a small-town newspaper, and the owner or editor is a conservative guy with a crew cut, maybe, and a bow tie, and he's been a Republican for years," he said. "He doesn't have a lot of patience for tax-and-spend liberals, but he'll take a meeting with me, and he'll write an editorial that says, 'He's a liberal Chicago lawyer but he seems like a decent enough guy, had some good ideas' — and the local TV station will cover me straight. But you go into those communities today and the newspapers are gone."

Obama added: "If Fox News isn't on every television in every barbershop and VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] hall, then it might be a Sinclair-owned station, and the presuppositions that exist there, about who I am and what I believe, are so fundamentally different, have changed so much, that it's difficult to break through."

In 2008 and 2012, Obama won Republican-leaning states like Iowa and Ohio, turning out base voters in urban areas, but making significant inroads in rural communities, many of which have moved dramatically away from the Democratic Party since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

The former president also expressed dismay that there was no longer "a common baseline of fact," with many individuals choosing to ignore the truth if it goes against their political beliefs.

"We don't have a Walter Cronkite describing the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination but also saying to supporters and detractors alike of the Vietnam War that this is not going the way the generals and the White House are telling us," Obama said. "Without this common narrative, democracy becomes very tough."

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