In a stunning moment of honesty, former President Bill Clinton said that Barack Obama benefited from “friendlier media coverage” than other presidents have because of his race. When asked during an interview on “CBS This Morning” about the differences in how Obama and Trump are treated by the media, Clinton conceded that the media’s standard for Obama was different than for other presidents. “They did treat him [Obama] differently than other Democrats and Republicans,” Clinton said, in a rare moment of honesty. “It was the political press.”
You think? Let’s look at the evidence. According to Pew Research Center, Obama received an absurdly larger share of positive media coverage compared to his two predecessors and his successor during his first 60 days. Trump’s media coverage was only 5 percent positive, while Obama’s was 42 percent positive. Obama’s positive coverage was also significantly greater than George W. Bush’s 22 percent and Bill Clinton’s 27 percent.
A study by the non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) also supports the claim that Obama received abnormally low levels of scrutiny from the press during his first year in office. Only one network offered a level of scrutiny consistent with past presidents: Fox News Channel.
Reviewing the first thirty minutes of FNC’s Special Report with Bret Baier, CMPA found roughly three times more negative coverage of Obama (78%) vs. positive coverage (22%) during 2009. This compares to the broadcast networks doling out 74% bad press for Ronald Reagan in 1981 and 77% bad press for George W. Bush in 2001. In 1993, Bill Clinton fared better than his GOP counterparts (28% positive vs. 72% negative), but much worse than President Obama.
As the MRC’s Tim Graham noted in a just-released special report from MRC, Omitting for Obama, the three broadcast networks were routinely late in picking up on negative storylines about the Obama administration, and gave paltry attention to major scandals such as the radical affiliations of ex-White House aide Van Jones, ACORN, and the pro-communist musings of then-White House communications director Anita Dunn. Instead, those stories were brought to light by alternative news sources, such as Fox News, talk radio and the conservative blogosphere, and then only grudgingly covered by the old media.
What was the reason for the media’s rose-colored coverage during the Obama years? According to Bill Clinton, “They liked him. And they liked having the first African-American president.”
Many of us have been saying for years that Obama’s race shielded him from criticism. The media routinely ignored, downplayed, or excused his numerous scandals. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty of a number of corruption charges, including trying to sell Obama’s former Senate to the high bidder—but Obama, who met with Blagojevich to discuss suitable candidates, was never held accountable for his role in the scandal. The media gave him a pass.
The media also ignored Obama’s attempted bribe of Congressman Joe Sestak to not run against Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, a crime that violated at least four federal laws. In 2014, forty-seven of seventy-three inspectors general accused the Obama administration of obstructing investigations. Did the media care? The widespread obstruction by the Obama administration literally required an act of Congress to prevent such abuses in the future.
Where was the media when the Obama administration was covering up the federal government’s incompetence in the wake of the BP oil spill, or the poisoning of the Animas River in Colorado? Or how about when the Obama administration was spying—literally spying—on the media? Did the media report on the Obama administration’s illegal seizing of AP reporters’ phone records, spying on Fox News reporter James Rosen, or trying to charge him with conspiracy? What about the hacking of Sharyl Attkisson’s work and home computers? Nope.
How about we move on from scandals, and just talk about other failures of the Obama years that the media ignored or glossed over. Did they care when Obama released 36,000 criminal illegal aliens, many of whom were guilty of committing homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, and other serious crimes? Did the media ever look into the radical pasts of his two attorneys general, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, the same way they have dug into the pasts of Trump’s various nominees?
Do you remember how the media treated Trump when he had a few issues filling key positions in his administration? Did you know that Obama had just as much trouble because he kept nominating people who were tax delinquents or under investigation? When Obama nominated unqualified individuals for ambassadorships just because they were donors, did the media raise a stink about it?
And what about policy? Did the media acknowledge or cover up the failure of Obama’s stimulus to actually stimulate the economy or prevent the unemployment rate from hitting 10 percent? Was the explosion in the national debt ever blamed on him? How about the historically awful GDP growth on his watch?
Was Obama ever blamed for his failure to enforce his red line with Syria, or the disastrous decision to intervene in Libya, or the rise of ISIS?
I truly could go on and on. There is no denying it. Obama was held to a unique standard by the media—which was to turn a blind eye to the corruption and scandals and failures that defined his presidency. Obama interpreted the media not covering him honestly as a license to repeatedly abuse the trust of the American people. Why would they let this happen? Was it simply because, as President Clinton said, they liked Obama and he was the first black president? I would argue that this absolutely is the root of it. Obama’s critics were routinely written off as racists. Legitimate criticisms of his policies were met with accusations of racism in an attempt to undermine those who dared challenge Obama The Messiah. Accusations of racism can destroy the lives and careers of those accused and while Obama was president, it was an effective way to silence those who didn’t toe the Obama line.
There is so much about Obama’s presidency that has been forgotten and ignored because the media was either too afraid to do its job, or too enamored with Obama and what he symbolized to dare to tarnish that image. Those of us willing to acknowledge and speak out about his failings were, in turn, targeted and accused of being racist just for being messengers of the facts. The media failed us. Our elected leaders should be held to the same standard because when the media covers up their corruption and failings, we pay the price with our own liberty.
I applaud Bill Clinton for telling the uncomfortable truth about Obama’s glowing media coverage, but the real question is, what are we going to do about it?
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book, The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis