Ed Driscoll

The Bonfire of the Journalistic Vanities


As Dr. Floyd said of the monolith in 2001, “Its origin and purpose, still a total mystery:”

Five months into his second term, allies and enemies are as confounded as ever about who President Obama really is.

Is he the dyed-in-the-wool liberal that his biggest supporters and critics suggest? Or is he a pragmatic, even cynical, politician who cares more for his popularity than taking risks for his ideological goals or living up to his rhetoric?

Even in the short period since his reelection, Obama has provided evidence to support conflicting interpretations.

— Justin Sink in The Hill today, in a piece titled “Who is he? Obama keeps allies, enemies guessing in second term.”

Mr. Obama has certainly kept “liberal” “journalists” and their editors guessing — they’ve been submitting copy about him for six years in which, despite having the collective resources of some of the biggest journalistic enterprises behind them, and the entire Internet at their fingertips, they…just…can’t..seem…to…put..their…finger…on…who this strange and exotic Barack Obama fellow they helped push into the White House truly is.

One of the earliest examples of this genre literally used the E-word in its headline:

What Obama really thinks should be done about health care and the terrorist threat remain secrets that his book does not unlock. His two years in the Senate certainly haven’t revealed any bold policy ideas.

This leave-them-guessing strategy slips out in the book’s prologue. “I serve as a blank screen,” Obama writes, “on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” He notifies readers that “my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete.” It takes some doing for a politician to write a 364-page book, his second volume, and skate past all controversy.

“Obama Scores as Exotic Who Says Nothing,” from the December 26, 2006 edition of Real Clear Politics, by Froma Harrop.

Almost two years later, on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, here are two senior network television journalists tacitly admitting on-air that their own news departments have utterly failed both them and millions of American voters:

CHARLIE ROSE: I don’t know what Barack Obama’s worldview is.

TOM BROKAW: No, I don’t, either.

ROSE: I don’t know how he really sees where China is.

BROKAW: We don’t know a lot about Barack Obama and the universe of his thinking about foreign policy.

ROSE: I don’t really know. And do we know anything about the people who are advising him?

BROKAW: Yeah, it’s an interesting question.

ROSE: He is principally known through his autobiography and through very aspirational (sic) speeches.

BROKAW: Two of them! I don’t know what books he’s read.

ROSE: What do we know about the heroes of Barack Obama?

BROKAW: There’s a lot about him we don’t know.

— Charlie Rose of PBS and NBC’s Tom Brokaw, October 30, 2008.

A CNN reporter uttered the same quiet admission of failure regarding his own TV network less than a month later:

“The Americans who are comparing him to those remarkable predecessors are putting a lot of faith in a man they barely know.”

— Jonathan Mann of CNN, November 28, 2008, in an article titled “Which hero do we want Obama to be?”, which compared Obama to JFK, FDR, Lincoln…and Bill Clinton.

And last year, Real Clear Politics came full circle. Despite Obama having been near the conclusion of his first term in office, the president was still scoring as an exotic who revealed nothing to left-leaning journalists with inch-thick blindfolds on:

George W. Bush was not an enigma. He had no hidden parts. His father was not mysterious. George H.W. Bush’s life was dedicated to achievement and service. Even Bill Clinton wasn’t unfathomable. Nothing in his presidency — the brilliant highs, the shocking lows — was a substantial, unpredictable departure from his past.

Barack Obama, though, is the most enigmatic president since Jimmy Carter, the most mysterious since Lyndon Johnson, the most unfathomable since Franklin Roosevelt. Political professionals sometimes say of public figures that what you see is what you get, more or less. But with Mr. Obama, what you see is both more and less than what you get. […]

The gravest warning sign in Mr. Obama’s background wasn’t his spare record in the U.S. Senate (Johnson often ridiculed John F. Kennedy for having accomplished almost nothing in the Capitol), nor his limited experience in electoral office (Lincoln had but one term in the House). Instead, the most troubling aspect of Mr. Obama’s past were the 129 abstentions in his Illinois Senate career. They suggested that Mr. Obama was more interested in getting elected than in doing the work he had been elected to perform.

— “Even After 4 Years, Obama Remains a Mystery,” David Shribman, Real Clear Politics, August 19, 2012.

Flash-forward nearly a year later to today. Linking to the latest example in the MSM’s genre of “who is this strange and mysterious Barack Obama fellow, and what on earth could his curious agenda be?”, blogger Jammie Wearing Fool quotes the aforementioned Justin Sink of The Hill and replies:

Part of that agenda, apparently, is using the IRS to go after his political opponents. Of course they fail to even mention his targeting of tea partiers, although there’s passing mentions of his numerous scandals.

The inaugural in particular seemed to show Obama believing that “his reelection would convince Republicans that they had to deal with him, that they had to come to the table,” Jillson said. “He articulated that idea at several points during the campaign, that the fever among the Republicans will break.”

But a tsunami of scandals and controversies since then has confounded the president’s ambitions.

It probably would help if they mentioned some of the tsunami of scandals, but the readers are left to figure out what they are. Heckuva job.

And that’s the problem: to reveal who Obama is and what his agenda is, would be to a shine a light on the goals of what passes for “liberalism” and “progressivism” in the second decade of the 21st century. And no MSM journalist wants to be accused of telling the American public what those truly are.

Update: “Americans’ Confidence in Newspapers Continues to Erode,” Gallup reports. “Fewer than one in four Americans confident in newspapers, TV news.”

What on earth could be the cause of this mysterious, impossible to understand development? It’s all happened so...unexpectedly.