As the bad economic news continues to emanate from the United States — with a double-dip recession now all but certain — a reckoning is overdue. American journalism will have to look back at the period starting with Barack Obama’s rise, his assumption of the presidency and his conduct in it to the present, and ask itself how it came to cast aside so many of its vital functions. In the main, the establishment American media abandoned its critical faculties during the Obama campaign — and it hasn’t reclaimed them since.
Much of the Obama coverage was orchestrated sychophancy. They glided past his pretensions — when did a presidential candidate before “address the world” from the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin? They ignored his arrogance — “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.” And they averted their eyes from his every gaffe — such as the admission that he didn’t speak “Austrian.”
The media walked right past the decades-long association of Obama with the weird and racist pastor Jeremiah Wright. In the midst of the brief stormlet over the issue, one CNN host — inexplicably — decided that CNN was going to be a “Wright-free zone.” He could have hung out a sign: “No bad news about Obama here.”
The media trashed Hillary. They burned Republicans. They ransacked Sarah Palin and her family. But Obama, the cool, the detached, the oracular Obama — he strolled to the presidency.
Palin, in particular, stands out as Obama’s opposite in the media’s eyes. As much as they genuflected to the one, they felt the need to turn rottweiler toward the other. If Obama was sacred , classy, intellectual and cosmopolitan, why then Palin must be malevolent, trashy, dumb and pure backwoods-ignorant.
Every doubt they hid from themselves about Obama, every potential embarrassment they tucked under the blanket of their superior sensibilities, they furiously over-compensated for by their remorseless hounding of Palin — from utterly trivial e-mails, to blogger Andrew Sullivan’s weird speculations about Palin’s womb, musings that put the Obama “Birther” fantasies into a realm near sanity. (We are now seeing an echo of that — with a new book promoting all sorts of unconfirmed gossip about Palin, including her alleged sexual dalliance with a basketball star.)
As a result, the press gave the great American republic an untried, unknown and, it is becoming more and more frighteningly clear, incompetent figure as President. Under Obama, America’s foreign policies are a mixture of confusion and costly impotence. It is increasingly bypassed or derided; the great approach to the Muslim world, symbolized by the Cairo speech, is in tatters. Its debt and deficits are a weight on the entire global economy. And the office of presidency is less and less a symbol of strength.
To the degree the press neglected its function as watchdog and turned cupbearer to a Styrofoam demigod, it is a partner in the flaws and failures of what is turning out to be one of the most miserable performances in the modern history of the American presidency.