There is also the boredom factor. Obama made the cardinal error of overexposing himself. It has been hard to avoid him in the nonstop flurry of press conferences, sporting event appearances, and interviews. After awhile the excitement wanes and what was a thrill for even the most intoxicated members of the media (he’s asking me a question!) becomes humdrum and dull. Especially when the president relies on the same strawman arguments and platitudes and there just isn’t much new or exciting for the press to relate.
In addition, Obama’s public standing has hit the skids. His polling trends are all one way and his aura of political ascendancy is crumbling. Polling data has come to occupy an ever-increasing share of political coverage and this presidency is no exception. The mainstream press, which made a fetish — incorrectly it seems — over his high standing, is now equally engaged with the new survey data. And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the numbers impact the coverage, tempering the enthusiasm for a president who can no longer be advertised, even by the most sympathetic members of the press, as the dreamiest ever.
Now we shouldn’t get carried away with the mainstream media’s newly found independence. The coverage of this administration is less hostile than anything George W. Bush received. The mainstream media trumpets many of the White House’s themes (e.g., the Republicans are obstructionist) and still ignores or minimizes bad news (Where’s coverage of the Black Panther case? Why no outrage over White House efforts to pressure the military over troop levels in Afghanistan?). But the fawning is less frequent and the criticism greater than in the early days of the new administration. Certainly the White House’s irritation has increased as its relationship with the no-longer-so-entranced media frays.
The question remains whether the flame can be rekindled or whether the Obama-media relationship is now assuming a more “normal” footing akin to that which other presidents have experienced. Much of the media invested its credibility, sacrificed its professional independence, and frittered away what remained of its journalistic reputation in helping to hawk candidate Obama.
The desire to help him succeed, and to defy critics who accused the press of shilling for the president, shouldn’t be minimized. So don’t be surprised if the lovers reconcile. Both have much at stake in keeping the embers burning.