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The Media's New Rock Star

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; 7:42 AM

Barack Obama will never get this kind of cuddly coverage again.

One hundred and fifty journalists in New Hampshire for his little drop-by on Sunday, when the guy hasn't even decided whether he's running for president?

Has he cast some kind of magic spell over the normally hard-bitten, cynical, run-over-your-grandmother-for-a-story press corps? Or are they just engaged in the audacity of hope that they might get to cover a young and exciting African-American candidate with a shot at winning?

Let's face it: The minute Obama gets into the race--a prospect that Newsweek now puts at 80 percent--the gloves come off, the investigative reporters start crawling over every piece of paper he ever signed, and he begins the long descent toward ordinary mortal. Because right now, the freshman senator is up in the media stratosphere, far beyond the slings and arrows of news organizations and potential opponents. Almost no one, for example, is asking whether a guy who has been in the Senate for all of two years is a plausible commander-in-chief.

Trust me, that will change.

If Obama orchestrated all this--book tour, Oprah embrace, hint-dropping with Tim Russert, pressing the flesh in Manchester and Portsmouth--he may be some kind of genius. But most of the coverage has focused on his star potential, not on his plan for a withdrawal for Iraq or how he would deal with Iran or North Korea. I still believe that any candidate without national security credentials is going to have a tough time, but maybe Obama will find a way to suspend the laws of political gravity.

Slate's John Dickerson was among the media pack in the Granite State:

"Brenda Bladen was trying to explain why she liked Barack Obama so much--he was authentic, selfless and inspirational. He was restoring her faith in politics. 'I'm not comparing him to Jesus Christ but . . . ' she said, before talking about the senator's humble beginnings . . .

"It's easy to see why New Hampshire Democrats were in a frenzy over Obama. He is a winning presence in a room. He is stylish in his uniform of white shirt, no tie and dark blazer. He carries himself with the weightless self-possession men's magazines achieve only by employing a team of stylists and wardrobe artists. Even his left handed signature is elegant--a 'B' and an 'O' connected by confident slashes. If he really were a rock star, he'd have it etched into the side of his private plane . . .

"But coolness doesn't get you elected, and coolness wasn't what had the New Hampshire audiences even more excited after they heard Obama speak. They were in love with the senator's message, a call to political renewal and rebirth that eschews what he calls the '24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative ad, bickering, small-minded politics.' The audiences in New Hampshire reacted to his remarks with one word appraisals: inspirational, uplifting, moving . . .

"If he decides to run, Obama faces the difficulty of any politician campaigning against politics as usual--he can't act politically or he ruins his brand. Running for president is exhausting, brutal and chaotic even if you're using the old playbook. Obama is suggesting he will go through that slog under a new set of rules that include a higher standard of candor for himself and greater fairness towards his opponents than has ever been practiced in electoral history. That is audacious and perhaps impossible."

HuffPosters Dave Johnson and James Boyce devise a novel explanation for Obama's popularity:


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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