National Press Club

NY Times reporter Peter Baker captures legacy moments of Obama presidency

June 30, 2017 | By Julia Haskins | juliaannehaskins@gmail.com

New York Times Chief White House correspondent Peter Baker introduced his new book, "Obama: The Call of History," at  a June 29 National Press Club Headliners Book Rap.

New York Times Chief White House correspondent Peter Baker introduced his new book, "Obama: The Call of History," at a June 29 National Press Club Headliners Book Rap.

Photo/Image: Craig Shearman

In his new book about President Barack Obama's two terms in office, New York Times Chief White House Correspondent Peter Baker isn't trying to draw a conclusion about whether Obama succeeded or failed, he's portraying the moments that defined his legacy.

The book,“Obama: The Call of History,” is “not making an argument that he’s a great president or terrible president. It’s not a polemic,” Baker said at a June 29 National Press Club Headliners Book Rap. Rather, Baker offers readers a closer look into Obama’s life in office and the people and key events of his presidency.

“You learn a little bit about the highlights and the lowlights of the last eight years,” Baker said.

Baker’s text is interwoven with photographs that span Obama’s tenure and beyond, from his run on the 2008 presidential campaign trail to his attendance at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Most photographs were taken by Baker’s colleagues at the New York Times, whom he credited with making the book possible.

The large, visual-heavy book, is meant to provide an “evenhanded narrative” of Obama’s presidency, Baker told the Club audience.

Those highs and lows are reflected in the book’s photographs, several of which were displayed during the Headliners event.

Baker discussed some of the iconic photographs that captured small moments, such as Obama bending down to let a young black boy touch his hair in the Oval Office, as well as watershed occasions like the 2011 hit on Osama bin Laden.

The book includes the famous photograph of Obama, alongside his national security team, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Situation Room watching the raid unfold.

The book also features photographs that speak to what Baker said were Obama’s shortcomings as president, including his response to the Syrian war.

The story of Obama’s presidency is not over, Baker said, and continues to be influenced by his successor, President Donald J. Trump.

“You could not have a better contrast between these two presidents,” he said.

A significant way in which Obama and Trump differ is in their relationships with former presidents, according to Baker.

In one photograph, Obama, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush are standing in the Oval Office, with Clinton and Bush chatting.

Although the leaders did not always agree, they respected one another and remained cordial, Baker said. Such an image comes in stark contrast to the photograph of Obama and Trump’s first-ever time meeting in the Oval Office, which appeared tense for both men.

Baker also took the opportunity to discuss the relationship between the press and the Trump administration. He noted that although no presidential administration has had a stellar relationship with the press, Trump has been particularly antagonistic toward members of the media.

“He calls us the opposition, he calls us the enemy of the people,” Baker said. However, “we are not a political actors. We are observers, and if they cut off access we will find other ways to write our stories.”