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Obama says presidents shouldn't watch TV or read social media

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered up his advice for clear decision-making in the Oval Office -- avoid...

Posted: Sep 19, 2019 3:42 AM
Updated: Sep 19, 2019 3:45 AM

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered up his advice for clear decision-making in the Oval Office -- avoid TV and social media, which only "clouds your judgment."

"What you have to do is to create a process where you have confidence that whatever data is out there has been sifted, sorted and the core issues that are going to be important to your decision, you're able to see it around," Obama said during an interview onstage at a technology conference in San Francisco.

"And that requires not just a good process but making sure you have a team that's got a diversity of opinion. The other thing that's helpful is not watching TV. Or, you know, reading, you know, social media," he said to a cheering crowd.

"So those are two things I would advise if you're president not to do, because it creates a lot of noise and clouds your judgment."

While Obama didn't name President Donald Trump in his remarks about TV and social media, Obama's successor is a prolific viewer of cable news and a frequent tweeter. Obama has occasionally criticized the President -- such as when Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and in the wake of Trump's first travel ban executive order -- but it is rare for modern presidents to criticize their successors. When referring to current news, Obama has frequently avoided using Trump's name.

Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Obama, said on Wednesday that "I really doubt this was a swipe" at Trump, insisting instead it was just general advice.

"Obama said this kinda thing about not watching TV and being on social media hundreds of times, publicly, before Trump was even a candidate for president," Favreau said on Twitter.

Obama said Wednesday that it's important that presidents be clear "that you want facts" without "sugarcoating."

"You can make sure that people who are providing you that information get a clear signal from you that you want facts, and you want bad news first. And you don't want spinning and you don't want sugarcoating and you want a diversity of opinion, and you send that signal strong at the outset."

He added that presidents shouldn't become concerned with outside signals that can "sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way."

"If you are susceptible to worrying about what are the polls saying, or what might this person say about this topic or you start mistaking the intensity of the passion of a very small subset of people with a broader sense of how the country or people who actually know something about the topic you're dealing with think, that will sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way," he said.

The former president also expressed concern about the harmful effects social media can have on democracy.

"The rise of the division globally -- not just here in the United States -- and the degree to which we have become more tribal, more polarized, less willing to listen to each other. And that predated social media -- but social media has accelerated it," he said.

While praising modern gadgetry as a way to communicate with his daughters, Obama also said, "Technology can also hinder human connection, split people apart."

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