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White House defends Obama's golf outings during crises

President Barack Obama takes the wheel of a golf cart as he rides with former President Bill Clinton as they play golf at Andrews Air Force
President Barack Obama takes the wheel of a golf cart as he rides with former President Bill Clinton as they play golf at Andrews Air Force

By Steve Holland

EDGARTOWN Mass. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama delivered a somber statement on the death of American journalist James Foley after a video emerged showing Foley's grisly execution by Islamic State militants. Then Obama proceeded directly to a golf course to play 18 holes.

That juxtaposition of events on Wednesday drew Obama a fair amount of criticism as he tries to juggle the U.S. response to rapidly unfolding world crises while taking some time to relax during a two-week August vacation that has been frequently interrupted.

"Bam's Golf War," blared the cover of the New York Daily News, showing a picture of the smiling president behind the wheel of a golf cart, while Foley's parents grieved over their son in a smaller photo lower on the page.

Criticism of Obama was not universal but emerged on both sides of the political spectrum, with former Vice President Dick Cheney attacking the president and left-leaning blogger Ezra Klein saying in a tweet that it was in bad taste.

Presidential aides defended Obama, saying he takes time for golf to clear his mind and ease the stress of his pressure-packed job.

"I will say that, generally, I think that, you know, sports and leisure activities are a good way for release and clearing of the mind for a lot of us," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters on Friday.

Obama has played eight rounds of golf while on a two-week vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard. Beyond the Islamic State challenge in Iraq and Syria, he has grappled with racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the Ukraine crisis, the Gaza crisis and any number of other problems.

"It's important for us to understand, and I think that's been evident, is that the issues the country is facing, both on the international stage and back here at home, have absolutely captured the president's attention while we've been here," Schultz said.

Obama returns to Washington on Sunday.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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