As Tim Graham writes at Newsbusters, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman stopped by Laura Ingraham’s show today to chat. You can listen to the whole interview at Laura’s site — the conversation was surprisingly revealing, despite Fineman’s best efforts to keep his cards close to his vest regarding the turbulent status of the beleaguered opinion magazine and its JournoList-infected former owner. Graham highlights the key passage:
On Tuesday morning’s Laura Ingraham radio show, Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman pleaded “no contest” in Latin to the conservative host’s lecture that Newsweek was too busy celebrifying Barack and Michelle Obama to weigh whether Obama would succeed as president. (Audio here.) He insisted the magazine was “mesmerized” by a “brilliantly run campaign,” as if it wasn’t also about their liberal wishes and dreams:
INGRAHAM: How is it though with all these smart people at Newsweek – I went around the block with Evan Thomas about this as well. How did you all think that a guy who basically went from the Harvard Law Review, to some community leafleting, organizing, whatever you want to call it, to a short stint, a few lectures about constitutional law at [the University of] Chicago, very short stopover in the state Senate, and a very short stopover in the U.S. Senate. How does that add up to experience to run the biggest economy and the biggest military in the world? And why wasn’t Newsweek, instead of doing these celebrified covers of Michelle and Barack as historic, and celebrity culture, and all this love-love-love-love-love, why wasn’t – Why weren’t those questions asked before this election took place? Because to me, those were the questions to ask. . It wasn’t about personality. It was about experience and outlook.
FINEMAN: Well, uh, first, I’ll plead nolo [contendere] on a lot of this. But –
INGRAHAM: That’s what he did, in the U.S. Senate. He voted present. So you’re voting present for Newsweek.
FINEMAN: No, no. Part of the problem is, or part of the reason is that we – as political reporters, we become enamored with the mechanics of the campaign, and I would still insist that –
Ingraham saw right through the admire-your-mechanics trope:
INGRAHAM: You’re gonna do that if Paul Ryan is the nominee, for the Republicans? You’re gonna celebrify him? I don’t think so.
FINEMAN: No, no. Let me back up for a second. That was – Whatever you say about Barack Obama and David Axelrod in your diaries and everything —
FINEMAN – It was a brilliantly run campaign. And I have come to despair of the notion of the relationship between the quality and shrewdness of a campaign that someone runs and the kind of presidency that they have.
When Ingraham joked that Lady Gaga is good at branding, too, Fineman added; “We were mystified and mesmerized by the quality of the branding campaign that was Obama’s.”
Another word for “mystified and mesmerized” would be that Newsweek was “suckered,” or “bamboozled,” or to use an Ingraham favorite, “razzle-dazzled.” But they knew he would be an inexperienced president, and make plenty of mistakes. They just calculated that they would cross that bridge when they arrived at it. “History” came first, incompetence afterwards.
When the media offers a contender like Obama yards and yards of gauzy press coverage, and when it papers over every inconvenient truth about his hate-preaching minister of two decades, among many contentious fractions of the candidate’s personal history, isn’t it much easier to portray his campaign as “brilliantly run”?
Or to flip that last paragraph by Tim Graham over just slightly, Fineman told Ingraham:
It was a brilliantly run campaign. And I have come to despair of the notion of the relationship between the quality and shrewdness of a campaign that someone runs and the kind of presidency that they have.
Generally, the American public views presidential campaigns as trial runs for the White House. Certainly pundits report on them from this perspective. The public observes how each man running for the White House handles the pressure of all the curve balls being thrown him from the media, his opposing candidate, and the events of the day, and decides who performs the best under pressure.
But when the media is willing to eliminate all of the curve balls — creating “The Wright-Free Zone” at CNN and much of the JournoList-affiliated publications, threatening to play the racism card at both McCain and his new media supporters, destroying McCain’s veep, going through the records of his voters(!), etc. — what kind of a test is it for the candidate? How can Fineman call it “a brilliantly run campaign,” when he and his friends at Newsweek, the WaPo, CNN, and on the JournoList had stacked the deck so strongly in his favor?
And — surprise! — add NBC to that list as well:
As Jim Hoft writes:
FOX Business Channel’s Charles Gasparino told Bill O’Reilly tonight that GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt gathered the NBC reporters together in early 2009 and scolded them for reporting negatively on Barack Obama. GE owns 80% of NBC Universal.
We already knew that Jeffrey Immelt was pushing non-existent global warming so that his company could benefit from cap and trade legislation. Now we know that GE’s CEO was sitting at meetings in the White House and scolding his reporters for being hard on Obama. That’s why it’s called the democratic-media complex.
NBC’s Chuck Todd, substitute hosting for Chris Matthews on Monday’s Hardball, invited on Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum and the Politico’s Jonathan Martin to navel gaze about what ailed the political structure as Todd questioned “Is Washington broke and beyond repair?” Pivoting off a Purdum article, that in part, blamed lobbyists, Martin offered his own explanation as he brought up the typical mainstream media boogeymen of the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
After Todd noted that it’s not just the “lobbying community” causing distress in D.C., that the “media is playing a role here” and “it’s not clear which came first, the polarized Washington or the polarized way that people get information,” Martin buttressed Todd’s point by offering his personal account of a Florida townhall meeting where he claimed voters there were only “listening to Rush Limbaugh,” “reading Drudge” and “watching Fox News.”
A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don’t mean the Democrats. I’m talking about the “mainstream media,” which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush’s Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox’s canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards.
— Howard Fineman in Newsweek, January 13, 2005.