What others say: Presidential reality TV

  • Monday, September 14, 2015 6:24pm
  • Opinion

It was Alaska’s best reality TV series.

With the benefit of a week of hindsight and contemplation, that’s our conclusion of the recent visit of the 44th President of the United States to the 49th state.

In his three days in Alaska, the president stopped in Anchorage, Dillingham and Kotzebue. He spoke at an international conference on the Arctic, grabbed pastries at Snow City Cafe, walked to Exit Glacier, was milted on by a salmon and learned an Inupiaq dance.

He made no major policy changes or announcements, and he took no questions from any member of the Alaska media — not even from the Alaska Dispatch News, even though he dined with that newspaper’s millionaire owner during a two-hour fundraiser.

His only significant action of the trip was taken on the Friday before his arrival, when he allowed the Secretary of the Interior to restore the name of Denali.

His three days in Alaska were little more than an opportunity, as Rep. Don Young said, “to use Alaska as a prop.”

It’s disappointing, but we had no right to expect anything more.

Until recently, this state was offering millions of dollars per year in tax credits to film and TV companies whose sole purpose was to create Alaska-themed entertainment. The tax credit program was designed to create an Alaska film industry, but it accomplished its goal about as well as the Alaska Aerospace Corp. has encouraged an aerospace industry or the Delta Barley Project grew agriculture.

The best outcome of the surge in Alaska TV programming has been increased Outside attention — something that has resulted in a small bump in tourist figures. From May 2010 to April 2011, Alaska attracted 1.777 million tourists. From May 2014 to April 2015, it attracted 1.946 million.

As people saw Alaska on their TV sets, they saw Alaska in their mind’s eye and their vacation plans.

The president’s visit has surely done the same — and without a multimillion-dollar tax credit. Moreover, the president’s trip reached the most important audience of all: the president himself. In the final 497 days of his term, the president will have a better idea of the Alaska experience. It won’t be a perfect one — after all, it was only three closely guarded days — but it’s better than the one he had before.

The president’s visit was intended for a Brooklyn audience whose closest encounter with a Sitka Spruce is spruce-tip beer. It was directed at foreign ministers who will address climate change at a December conference in Paris. Its message was launched at members of Congress who have been lukewarm on the crisis of climate change.

The president said during his trip that he’d love a chance to come back again. We hope he does, whether as a private citizen or as president. If a president makes another such visit, it would be nice to have a chance to address the problems specifically facing Alaskans. Climate change has gotten attention. Transboundary mining, the need for better relations with Russia, the rights of tribal governments, the boundaries between federal and state law enforcement — these are the burning issues that need attention just as much as climate change.

— Juneau Empire,

Sept. 11

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