History Rhymes at the San Francisco Chronicle
As Bryan Preston writes at the PJ Tatler, they told me if I voted for John McCain, "we would soon see the government quash new media reporting to control the message…and they were right!"
Bryan links to a post from the blog of Phil Bronstein, the San Francisco Chronicle's editor at large , who seems genuinely shocked to discover that the "Obama Administration punishes reporter for using multimedia":
White House officials have banished one of the best political reporters in the country from the approved pool of journalists covering presidential visits to the Bay Area for using now-standard multimedia tools to gather the news.
The Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci – who, like many contemporary reporters, has a phone with video capabilities on her at all times – pulled out a small video camera last week and shot some protesters interrupting an Obama fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel. …
Other sources confirmed that Carla was vanquished, including Chronicle editor Ward Bushee, who said he was “informed that Carla was removed as a pool reporter.” Which shouldn’t be a secret in any case because it’s a fact that affects the newsgathering of our largest regional paper (and sfgate)and how local citizens get their information.
What’s worse: more than a few journalists familiar with this story are aware of some implied threats from the White House of additional and wider punishment if Carla’s spanking became public. Really? That’s a heavy hand usually reserved for places other than the land of the free.
You don't say.
In a way, this is a case of history rhyming at the Chronicle. In 2007 through early 2008, Obama was in the midst of staking out his turf as being further to the left of Hillary Clinton. (After the primaries, he would later feint somewhat to the right by the fall of 2008, until his fateful meeting with a certain man in the plumbing trade.) As a result, at the start of 2008, the hard-core anti-war, LGBT, environmental activists swooned over Obama. You know the "professional left," as Robert Gibbs cynically dubbed them last year, in perhaps the only memorable soundbite in his career? That was them. This was also the period in which young Ezra Klein, in-between setting up the JournoList and then being hired by the Washington Post (what could go wrong?), memorably said:
Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.
The leader of candidate Obama's self-described "non-official campaign" in the media was heating up his base's collective temperature during the cold winter of 2008. But that was also the period that Obama felt free to tell the San Fransisco Chronicle that he'd cheerfully bankrupt coal companies, and not-coincidentally, "energy costs would necessarily skyrocket":
Yeah, that's what the majority of Americans who aren't ideologically on the far left and particularly those who live in more climatically volatile regions than the San Francisco Bay Area and who live from paycheck to paycheck want to hear from a presidential candidate.
As I've written before, a savvier newspaper -- one that wanted to sell some papers, as opposed to being either (a) asleep at the wheel, (b) wanting to promote a favored candidate above all else or (c) both -- would have had someone say immediately at the conclusion of the interview, "Well, thank you for your time, Senator," shaken his hand and walked him to the front door.
They would have then immediately put the president's quote on the front page in type so big it would make the New York Post blush, and then sent out links to Matt Drudge and every wire service about the awesome quote they just tripped over.
Instead, the paper put the video of the whole hour-long interview online, where it sat until late October of 2008, when the then-nascent multimedia blogger known as "Naked Emperor News" (later affiliated, I believe, with first Breitbart.tv, and then Glenn Beck's The Blaze website) stumbled over it and sent a link to Matt Drudge.
It was an October surprise hiding in plain sight, that could have easily been the Chronicle's story 10 months earlier. As the Chronicle's Bronstein later said of Obama, in mid-2009, when the first hints of the bloom were just gradually coming off the rose:
This guy is good. Really good. And, frankly, so far, we’re not.
You can’t blame powerful people for wanting to play the press to peddle self-perpetuating mythology. But you can blame the press, already suffocating under a massive pile of blame, guilt, heavy debt and sinking fortunes, for being played. Some of the time, it seems we’re even enthusiastically jumping into the pond without even being pushed. Is there an actual limit to the number of instances you can be the cover of Newsweek?
If I wanted to see highly manicured image management I’d just take some No-Doz and read Gavin Newsom’s tweets. But the Obama-press dance is a more consensual seduction where, in the old-fashioned sense, we’re the girl. (In California, there’s no other option.)
And in 2008, the Chronicle, as with most old media shops, didn't exactly play hard to get. The love affair, now seen as a the courtship to a permanent, albeit rather abusive relationship, was so obvious, even the McCain camp could see it back then:
Did any of that play a role in yesterday's story? Maybe not. But the distance between the two events, and all that's come between them is enormous. (Including the administration's heavy-handed tactics with Fox, Forbes, and other news organizations and even individual columnists, not to mention at least once calling into an MSNBC show on the air to "request" a correction.) And you know, it kind of places this viral early-2007 video produced by one of candidate Obama's staffers into fresh perspective as well:
A few months after Obama spoke to the Chronicle, in April of 2008, San Francisco was also the place where a Huffington Post journalist with a digital audio recorder would capture Obama's infamous Bitter Clingers line. In terms of revealing the president's harshly punitive worldview it was the very definition of a Kinsleyesque gaffe.
As I asked last month, at this point, where else can Obama's base go? And earlier this month, a group of hardcore Obama fundraisers sang to Obama in, appropriately enough, San Francisco:
We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true
Look at the Republicans – what else can we do
Even though we don’t know if we’ll retain our liberties
In what you seem content to call a free society
Of course, they also ponyed up $5,000 a person that night. Similarly, it's a remarkably safe bet that the Chronicle will still -- somehow -- reluctantly find it in their heart to endorse President Obama reelection bid next year, no matter how heavy handed they treat the Chronicle's reporters.
Where else are they going to go?
Update: Welcome those readers clicking in from Instapundit, and from Hot Air, where this item is cross-posted. I'm pleased to be sitting for a few days while Capt. Ed and the First Mate are on an inspection tour of Europe, in order for each major blog on the starboard side of the Blogosphere to have at least one Ed on duty at all times, as stated by a recent Web-oriented codicil of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
For more on the Chronicle's star-crossed affair with the president, don't miss Bookworm Room on how "Totalitarian revolutions always end up eating their own." And Tom Blumer of BizzyBlog spots how this story is even more interconnected than I first imagined: "WH West Coast Pool Reporter Banned for Videotaping SF Fundraiser Protest Gave Obama Early 2008 Assist by Omission."