Osama, Obama, and the Media
On the eve of the killing of Osama bin Laden, President Obama was being criticized by his base as “leading from behind.” In a matter of hours, the president went from being an ineffectual leader to being roundly called “courageous” for authorizing a military operation on which no modern president would have demurred.
In his announcement to the nation of bin Laden’s death, President Obama made it appear that killing or capturing Osama bin Laden had been a top priority of his administration since day one, and he choose to remind us how bin Laden had, under the previous administration, escaped over the Afghan border into Pakistan. Not once did the president acknowledge that the previous administration had put into place a counter-terrorism team to hunt down bin Laden.
Ever sensitive to the 2012 campaign, the media jumped on the killing of bin Laden with the words “game changer” to describe Obama’s “courageous” decision and his transformation from being indecisive to being a leader. It began to sound like Obama himself had jumped out of a helicopter with an M-16 and charged into bin Laden’s fortified compound.
The problem is that a sycophantic media that was so consumed with seeing the ascension of Obama to the presidency never wanted to find out who he is. Obama, unlike other candidates, was permitted to craft his own image. And much of this came from his veneration of self as portrayed in two hagiographies possessing all the objectivity of a medieval church tome on the saints.
In the past several weeks, the consequences of the media’s purposeful apathy have come home to roost. On April 19, 2011, there was the sight of the president giving a tongue lashing to a Houston reporter who wasn’t buying into playing Larry King to the president. Admonishing the reporter to let him finish his answers next time, as if there would be one, our calm, collected, dispassionate, and open president was miffed because he was forced into playing hardball, a game from which the media had largely exempted him. Anyone who watched the interview knew that the president had been permitted to answer the questions. He just didn’t like what he was being asked.
Then came the president’s April 20 trip to San Francisco. The pool of reporters was restricted to pad and pencil types. No cameras, no recording equipment. Among the assembled reporters was Carla Marinucci, from the liberal San Francisco Chronicle.
Marinucci used her cell phone to captured a protest at the upscale-breakfast fundraiser at San Francisco’s posh St. Regis Hotel. Local activist Naomi Pitcairn shelled out $76,000 so she and her outraged fellow progressives could spontaneously serenade the president with a ditty on behalf of Private Bradley Manning, the alleged Wikileaks source.
After filing her pool report, Marinucci uploaded a video to the Chronicle’s web site, SFGate.com, of the a capella serenade, capturing an unflattering image of a stunned president incurring the wrath of his ideological base.
The White House Press Office issued a heated warning that Marinucci would no longer be permitted to cover the president and if the Chronicle’s editors went public with this story, they and their parent Hearst-chain reporters would be banished from all presidential coverage.
Even for the Obama-allied Chronicle, this heavy-handed outburst was too much. Phil Bronstein, the Chronicle’s editor, posted the story on SFGate.com, and the White House communications office immediately issued a denial, which Bronstein followed up by unflinchingly calling them a bunch of liars.
Such heavy handedness ensues from the continued expectation that the hands-off media approach to Obama is now the norm. This implicit policy dramatically characterized coverage of Obama during the 2008 campaign.