Obama and the Media: The End of the Affair
The honeymoon is over. I'm not even sure marriage counseling can save this one. It seems that the mainstream media and President Obama are breaking up.
The AP's Liz Sidoti goes after the president with hammer and tongs:
Barack Obama's optimistic campaign rhetoric has crashed headlong into the stark reality of governing. In office two months, he has backpedaled on an array of issues, gingerly shifting positions as circumstances dictate while ducking for political cover to avoid undercutting his credibility and authority.
That's happened on the Iraq troop withdrawal timeline, on lobbyists in his administration and on money for lawmakers' pet projects. ...
For now at least, Obama's deviations have served only to invite occasional cries of hypocrisy from some Republicans and infrequent grumbles of disappointment from some Democrats. He has popularity on his side, and it seems people mostly are chalking up his moves to much-needed flexibility at a difficult time.
But the shifts could take a toll over time if they become a persistent pattern and the public grows weary. His overall job-performance marks could suffer and jeopardize his likely re-election campaign in 2012.
People could perceive him as a say-one-thing-do-another politician and the Democratic-controlled Congress could see him as a weak chief executive.
NBC's Chuck Todd says the president has a "credibility problem" on his budget numbers. The White House press corps is roughing up the hapless Robert Gibbs virtually every day on the AIG bonus debacle. The New York Times' Paul Krugman has had it. Indeed, all of the Gray Lady's liberal columnist contingent is in a huff. Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes even went so far as to question the president's jocularity, asking impertinently if the president was "punch-drunk."
Was it something Obama said? Was it snubbing their Gridiron dinner? (Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joked to the assembled press corps, "He's just not that into you.") Certainly we have come a long way since the giddy days on the campaign trail when nary a critical word by the press corps was spoken about The One. How did such a lovestruck couple drift apart?
It is not difficult to figure out why the press has fallen out of love. For starters, it is hard, indeed impossible, to ignore the incompetent Treasury Secretary, the pork-filled "stimulus plan" (with the ever-shifting number of promised jobs to be "saved"), the Special Olympics gaffe, the appointee troubles, the budget busting, the cheesy political stunts, the stock market dive, the rising unemployment, and the defections by Red state Democrats. The collective impact of all of these and other difficulties cannot be overlooked. Eventually, even the most sympathetic media must cover the real world.
Moreover, the Obama press operation rivals the worst days of Scott McClellan. Every day brings a new cringe-inducing encounter with Gibbs who dodges and stalls, evades and robotically repeats the White House talking points. His tactic of villifying specific media figures -- from Rush Limbaugh to Jim Cramer -- is wearing thin. It is no wonder that you now hear snickering in the background at the White House briefings.
The collective sentiment of the White House press corps seems to be, "Can you believe this guy?" Well, it is hard both to believe what he is saying -- and to understand why a team as expert as this one at managing the media on the campaign trail can't accomplish simple tasks like putting together a timeline on the AIG bonuses or compiling a list of ethics waivers.
And, of course, there is no single Republican opponent to harass. Unlike a presidential campaign, where at least half the game is turning the tables on the other guy, the White House now suffers from the lack of a single foe. Yes, they tried to cast Rush Limbaugh in the role, but that petered out after a few days. When you have all the power and all the responsibility it is not quite so easy to cast attention and blame elsewhere. There isn't any other target toward which they readily can point the press. Really the new administration is the only story to cover right now.
But a key factor in Obama's falling out with the media is the expectations problem. He rode into office as the embodiment of them -- an idealized version of the Washington-New York elite opinion makers. Sophisticated and worldly, cool and unflappable, he was their guy. They assumed that since he was smart, articulate, and read all the right books and magazines (just like them!) he would be just swell at his job. After all, he was in many ways the perfect candidate who flicked mere mortal politicians like Hillary Clinton and John McCain out of his way without breaking a sweat.
Then it turns out he can't find competent help, doesn't take seriously his promises to root out earmarks or cut the deficit, hires a load of lobbyists and tax cheats, and seems about as transparent and bipartisan as his predecessor (i.e., not at all). In other words, he's just like all the rest! The MSM is wounded. No wonder they want out of the co-dependent relationship.
And that is part of it too. Having put their professional respect and independence in a lock box for a couple of years, it does seem time for the mainstream media to get back to the job of doing their job. That is not to say the media treatment of this president remotely resembles that of most Republicans. It is a full time exercise imagining just how outraged the press would be if George W. Bush had pulled some of this stuff. (Conservative pundits constant refrain these days is: "Can you imagine if Bush did X?") Actually, Bush would not have had the nerve to sign a bill with nearly 9000 earmarks and then have an anti-earmark press conference the next day, or sign a $787 billion budget and have a fiscal responsibility summit the next week. Still, the mainstream media is slowly, ever so slowly, adopting a more critical stance toward the administration.
Not only is it about time they did so, but it is essential for the mainstream media's own survival in a world of alternative media outlets. If they don't cover the administration with some degree of accuracy, others, including candidly liberal outlets, will. (Huffington Post, for example, seems to have been out ahead of the New York Times in adopting a more critical stance toward the administration.)
And most of all, it is essential to the functioning of a democratic society to have a competent, independent press. Perhaps we're finally going to get one. That would be change many Americans could believe in.