At least in modern times, all presidents have had fractious relations with the press. In World War I, Woodrow Wilson censored the media. In 1942, during a press conference at the height of World War II, a bitter FDR gave a Nazi iron cross to a reporter whose coverage he didn’t approve of. When the guard changed between the Johnson and Nixon administrations, LBJ warned Spiro Agnew:
Shortly after the 1968 presidential election, [Lyndon Johnson, the outgoing president] had sought to warn the Vice President-elect about the antagonistic nature of the media.
“Young man,” he told Agnew, “We have in this country two big television networks, NBC and CBS. We have two news magazines, Newsweek and Time. We have two wire services, AP and UPI. We have two pollsters, Gallup and Harris. We have two big newspapers — the Washington Post and the New York Times. They’re all so damned big they think they own the country. But young man, don’t get any ideas about fighting.”
Agnew’s boss would indeed try to fight back, via his infamous enemies list. Gerald Ford attempted to take a more conciliatory approach to those who helped topple his predecessor. He naively allowed Ron Nessen, his press secretary, to host NBC’s Saturday Night Live in April of 1976. When the news broke inside NBC that Nessen would be hosting, and thus Ford himself would be tuning in, an SNL writer exclaimed, “The President’s watching. Let’s make him cringe and squirm.”
At his first White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 1993, newly minted President Bill Clinton smeared talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh (who was also in the audience):
Clinton noted that Limbaugh had defended attorney general Janet Reno, after Rep. John Conyers attacked her over the Waco disaster. The president said, “Do you like the way Rush Limbaugh took up for Janet Reno? He only did it because she was attacked by a black guy.”
And needless to say, the media went to war with Reagan and GWB seemingly on a daily basis.
In the 1920s, when mass communication began with the first national radio networks, there were initially two: NBC and CBS. By the 1960s, there were three successor national TV networks; ABC began as a spin-off of one of NBC’s subsidiary radio networks. News and opinion were delivered in tiny, discreet blocks back then: For many Americans, a half hour of local news at 6:00 PM, a half hour of national news at 6:30 PM, an evening newspaper or two, and the weekly copies of Time and Newsweek constituted the entirety of their news intake.
But today’s social media is a unstoppable 24/7 flood of information and opinion, and it allows anyone to be a journalist or pundit. Anybody can launch a Weblog: click here, it’s free. Ditto for Twitter and Facebook.
And the president whose election in 2008 was predicated on the idea of social media, hates this notion, as Chuck Todd (no stranger to Democrat election campaigns himself) said in a remarkable statement in the otherwise Obama-friendly setting of NBC’s Meet the Press today:
CHUCK TODD: What I wonder how many people realized at the end [of Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner] when he did his, you know, there’s always this part at the end where they get serious for a minute. And it’s usually the part where presidents say, “You know, I think the press has a good job to do and I understand what they have to do.” He didn’t say that. He wasn’t very complimentary of the press. You know, we all can do better.
It did seem, I thought his pot shots joke wise and then the serious stuff about the internet, the rise of the internet media and social media and all that stuff — he hates it. Okay? He hates this part of the media. He really thinks that the sort of the buzzification — this isn’t just about Buzzfeed or Politico and all this stuff – he thinks that sort of coverage of political media has hurt political discourse. He hates it. And I think he was trying to make that clear last night.
Todd was likely quite correct, but chose not to disclose why Obama hates new media. It’s because most of it isn’t in the tank for this President and can’t be controlled by him.
That’s obviously not true of folks such as Todd and his colleagues in the old media who echo the current White House resident’s talking points, mercilessly attack his opponents, and cover for his missteps.
But note the examples that Todd gave: Politico has numerous journalists who during the campaign in 2008 were on the infamous “JournoList,” which dubbed itself the “non-official campaign” for Obama’s election bid. The JournoList was created by Ezra Klein, who is now with the Washington Post. As Klein later admitted in his column there in 2010:
At the beginning, I set two rules for the membership. The first was the easy one: No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join. [Arguably rendered false with the presence of Obama advisors Jared Bernstein and Peter Orszag-- Ed] The second was the hard one: The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left. I didn’t like that rule, but I thought it necessary: There would be no free conversation in a forum where people had clear incentives to embarrass each other. A bipartisan list would be a more formal debating society. Plus, as Liz Mair notes, there were plenty of conservative list servs, and I knew of military list servs, and health-care policy list servs, and feminist list servs. Most of these projects limited membership to facilitate a particular sort of conversation. It didn’t strike me as a big deal to follow their example.
So it can safely be assumed that anyone on the JournoList or its successor is safely in the tank for BHO. (Recall Klein and others on its successor list moving in lockstep last month to trash the reputation of Bob Woodward, Klein’s senior colleague at the Post, when his reporting destroyed the administration’s preferred meme that they had nothing to do with the current “Sequester.”) Another self-admitted member of the JournoList is Ben Smith, who is now with Buzzfeed; there’s a reason why John Nolte has singlehandedly made “BenSmithing” a verb to describe new media doing Obama’s bidding. And the Obama-worshipping MSNBC take their cues — and many of their stories — from those same social media sites, and other predecessors firmly on the left, such as the Daily Kos.