Opinion: Obama White House now issuing comments on foreign train wrecks (Russia)


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(UPDATE 8:48 p.m. A news video update has been added below.)

It’s not unprecedented, of course, for the White House to issue messages of condolence on the death of prominent individuals or major disasters, at home or abroad. Most are boiler-plate hearts-going-out condolence stuff. So was today’s, about the Russian train wreck.

Perhaps it’s just to show the world that, even on a slow-news U.S. post-holiday day, the Obama crowd is on the job.


Publicly commenting on other news is a time-honored way for public figures, especially high-profile politicians, to insert themselves into the daily news flow, help shape their image in the minds of voters and position them for future moves. Sarah Palin, for instance, is doing this at times on her ongoing ‘Going Rogue’ book promotion tour, often using her Facebook page, which allows her to put a statement out without requiring answers to follow-up questions.

We’ll have to watch and see what criteria the 10-month-old Obama administration uses to issue such regular comments -- what type disaster merits comment, how many dead to warrant a White House message, and in what country.

If it’s every multiple-death incident in every country, they’re going to be pretty busy in the press office. But at least they have jobs. Today’s train wreck in Russia occurred between Moscow and St. Petersburg, killing 25 at latest count

The comment, though not presidential, could play well if widely dispersed in Russian media. If the incident turns out to be terrorist-related, it could also help underline the international commonality of such threats. And Obama has gone out of his way to make friends with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Here’s what the White House press office said:

Statement by the White House Press Secretary on the Train Derailment in Russia

We are deeply saddened by the terrible loss of life and injuries resulting from the reported derailment of a train between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. As authorities investigate the circumstances of this tragedy, our hearts go out to the families of those who lost loved ones, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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