What Are the Media Celebrating?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; 5:47 AM

Filmmaker Ron Howard was chatting in Maureen Dowd's living room, saying he didn't mind spending hours in the cold for the inauguration and that even his conservative brother had come to admire Barack Obama.

Outside on the chilly Sunday night, Tom Hanks decided against venturing into the jam-packed row house, mock-announcing to a small crowd on the Georgetown street that the party was paralyzed: "No more hot dogs! The Chinese food never got here!"

The country's big-name anchors, actors, commentators, news executives, producers, editors and scribes have been celebrating the quadrennial event -- and themselves -- at one glitzy gathering after another in the run-up to today's inauguration.

"It's turning into the royal wedding, isn't it?" asks Tina Brown, who threw a brunch Sunday at the Council on Foreign Relations with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

Every inauguration is a major media moment, with nonstop television coverage, newspapers churning out special editions and correspondents parachuting in from around the globe. But it is hard to envision this level of intensity if John McCain were taking the oath of office. All the hoopla has left the impression that many in journalism are thrilled by Obama's swearing-in.

"We wanted to celebrate the key themes of the Obama era," says Arianna Huffington, who hosted 1,500 guests at the Newseum last night at a bash featuring massive computer screens--with live-blogging stations--and entertainment by Will.i.am, Sheryl Crow and Sting. These include "the rise of the Internet and new media and the role they had in getting him elected, and the way he's going to use it to govern."

At times the line between celebrity and journalist seemed to vanish. Sharon Stone began interviewing 11-year-old Adrian Kali Turner, one of a group of kids picked to sing with Will.i.am, on a reporter's behalf. Why was she excited by Obama? "It's a benchmark in history," Turner said. Can we get past color? "We're all the same inside," Turner said.

Beaming at her journalistic handiwork, Stone declared: "It wasn't Will.i.am who said that. It was a little girl who said that."

Bill Press, a radio host at WWRC-AM -- now renamed "OBAMA 1260" -- arranged for other liberal hosts, including Stephanie Miller and Randi Rhodes, to join a radio and television broadcast Sunday at George Washington University, complete with a live band. "We wanted to celebrate the inauguration of someone we all worked hard to get elected, and the role that progressive talk radio played," he says.

Obama is being covered not just as an incoming president but as a white-hot celebrity. In recent days, the New York tabloids have run front-page stories on his official portrait and new Cadillac limousine, amid such headlines as "VOICE OF HOPE" and "RENEW THE DREAM." The Washington Times gave front-page play yesterday to an essay Obama wrote for the paper, while Parade magazine's cover story was a letter that Obama wrote to his daughters. Michelle Obama is being touted as America's next supermodel. And there has been much panting over the family's search for a dog.

At what point does the recognition of Obama's gifts and this juncture in history spill over into partisan adulation? Some journalists justify the ebullient tone by arguing that Obama is simply more fascinating than most politicians, as well as a trailblazer who is following 43 white presidents. Others say they are merely reflecting a public groundswell. Still others say Obama moves product when he's on TV shows and magazine covers. Perhaps, more than one reporter says privately, Obama deserves the adulation, given the fact that he pulled off a political feat even harder than landing a crippled jet intact on the Hudson River.

As for liberal pundits who reflexively booed George W. Bush, are they now waving the pom-poms for Obama?

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