Libertarian Nick Gillespie writing in the Daily Beast argues: “Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, explaining away or minimizing his policy failures and reversals.” Indeed, “Daily Beast’s” now-kaput print sibling ”Newsweek” was infamous for putting a halo on the president.
Mere party identification, however, would not be sufficient to evoke the degree of loyalty to the president we have seen from some media quarters. No, as we saw in the 2008 campaign when liberals in a scrum crossed the line from journalism to strategizing and rooting for the Obama team, they began to identify as part of the administration. Attacks on Obama’s liberal policies were attacks on them, and Obama’s victories were their victories. MSNBC’s evening line-up, publications like “Salon” (recently caught up in the flap over taping Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign office) and many pundits and “analysts” on the left sprinkled throughout the media were adjuncts to (and often more effective than) the official Obama communications office. The press-secretary-wanna-be role changed from illuminating and critiquing to defending the president, even going so far as to impugn those in the media challenging the administration’s competence and credibility.
With time, the Obama-identification faded for many in the mainstream media, but not until the 2012 reelection was in the rear-view mirror did the bulk of the non-conservative press even acknowledge, for example, that the attack on the Benghazi, Libya, diplomatic compound was a legitimate story.
The administration’s serial scandals, dissembling and half-truths followed by the attempt to criminalize reporting have soured most on the left, making the remaining presidential surrogates’ job exceptionally difficult.
For one thing, they are increasingly isolated as the rest of liberal but indignant pundits and conscientious reporters have begun pounding away at the White House. Sure, the latter would rather accept the “If the Czar only knew!” mentality, ascribing the prevarication as a function of Jay Carney’s exclusion from real decision makers. (See how “Politico” adopts the narrative that it was Carney who created the problem: “Obama’s top aides have been laboring to get ahead of unexpected scandal and create a credible narrative after weeks of drip-drip revelations exacerbated, at times, by answers from Carney that critics perceive as confusing, evasive or just flat wrong — especially his disputed assertion that White House officials made only ‘stylistic’ changes to Benghazi talking points.”)
Nevertheless, mainstream media’s hostility toward tough reporting has almost vanished, Fox News has new street cred (the Department of Justice didn’t bug any MSNBC journalist, right?) and the White House press corps battles with Carney have come to resemble the adversarial relationship between the press and Bush administration.
There is, regrettably, a loud rump group of Obama dead-enders on the left who strain and struggle to insulate the president from blame, who take the role of defense attorney and who go searching for helpful snippets to bolster the president ( a few answers from one poll, the possibility of GOP overreach, the willingness to assert the president didn’t and couldn’t know what was going on, etc.). Whereas before the dam broke, the eager- beaver Obama defenders blended into the generally liberal media landscape, they now stand out like exasperated riders trying to restrain a media stampede galloping away from White House.
Their telltale uniformity produces a parade of stale arguments:
- The White House just “mishandled” the press storm.
- The public doesn’t care about any of this.
- The right just wants to get Hillary Clinton and/or the president.
- There is nothing tying any of this to the president.
- There is a mid-level bureaucrat (well maybe a lot of them, apparently in many departments or agencies) responsible for the screw-up.
- This is all a distraction from really important things.
- We expect too much of the president.
What is remarkable is that the dead-enders adopt all of these arguments virtually all of the time. The common theme that governs every argument (or tweet, or post or article) is “It’s not Obama’s fault.” But it is.