Finally covering Obamedia

Well, at last, attention is being paid to the hand job that news media have been giving Barack Obama. Howie Kurtz was pretty much alone in questioning Obamedia (here he was on their slathering over the Ted Kennedy endorsement that did Obama little good in Massachusetts, and here I am complaining about their fawning). Now Saturday Night Live has taken up the story, followed at long last — and way too late, I’d say — by On the Media.

On Kurtz’ show this week, former Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden called media coverage of Obama an “infomercial.” (With emphasis on the mercial, of course.) And former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers shamed media critics and editors for missing their own story: “I think it’s interesting that it took pop culture to make the country focus on the question of whether Hillary Clinton is being treated unfairly, and that was Saturday Night Live.”

Here’s where SNL started, a week ago, with a debate skit. A wonderfully exaggerated Jorge Ramos of Univsion questions Obama: “Oh, my God, I’m so nervous. I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you…. I’m sorry to go on so long, I just really, really, really, really want you to be the next President. And not just because you’re a fantastic human being and the only person who can turn this nation around…. So my question is, are you mad at me?… I was afraid you might be mad at me because, you know, all the shilling for you in my campaign coverage has been so obvious.”

Obama replies: “As I travel around this country, I’ve been hearing the same sentiments from every journalist I meet…. For too long in this country, the press has been hearing the same old refrain: Just give us the news and not your personal opinions. And they’re tired. They’re tired of being told, you journalists have to say neutral, you can’t take sides in a political campaign. And they’re saying, yes, we can. Yes, we can take sides. Yes, we can.”This week, the well-deserved skewering of puppy-love press continued with another debate skit, this one making fun of the MSNBC Barackfest debate. Clinton: “Maybe its just me but once again it seems as if (a) I’m getting the tougher questions and (b) with me, the overall tone is more hostile.” Cue Russert and Williams playing violins.I’ve said it before: I think this is a failure of media. It is also a failure of media criticism. Media won’t cover their own failings. Indeed, it’s frightening to hear the logic of political correspondents — this week’s Kurtz show is only the latest example — when they blame the campaign for getting bad coverage because they’re not being nice to the press.

So I’m glad to finally hear On the Media take on the story. Though fat lot of good that will do since we’re only days away from what the horse-race correspondents say is make-or-break Tuesday. Said Brooke Gladstone: “The media heart Obama.”

On OTM, media critic Bill Powers says that Obama has “an amazing ability to deflect bad press and move on.” I think that’s criticizing the event from the wrong direction: The press has an amazing ability not to press. Even in OTM’s criticism, we hear more wet kisses for Obama. Says Powers: “The way he keeps is cool is remarkable for someone under fire, particularly someone relatively young running for president…. It is something we haven’t seen the like of since Kennedy.” Just once, I want to hear reporters talk about what Obama does not say. Just once, I want to see reporters to go into a crowd of Obamaniacs and ask 10 of them — or a pollster 1,000 of them: “What does change mean?” Let’s hear whether, indeed, they are one or whether Obama is an empty vessel for his supporters as he is for media.

On both On the Media and Kurtz, guests predict that once Obama wins and Hillary is out of the way — which they all eagerly predict — the press will start attacking him. I don’t believe that. They’ll continue to slather over him until he gets into the White House. And then we’ll just see whether they finally start doing their job.

(Disclosure: I voted for Clinton.)

: LATER: I post this and then pick up the New York Times this morning, which twice mentions the media’s slathering over Obama. Here they are mocking US magazine, of all journalistic paragons, under a journalism heading, of all places, for treating Obama’s wardrobe better than Clinton’s (though the Clinton feature was one in which she quite gamely made fun of her own outfits and got points for being so game). And here’s a feature on the SNL writer of the debate skits. Not a mention, though, of the Times’ newsroom’s own incurable crush. Reporters, report thyselves.

: But at least on the op-ed page, there has been acknowledgment of the media’s issue. Here was David Brooks’ mockery of it a few weeks ago. And Paul Krugman today:

What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent — and that he has not yet faced the hostile media treatment doled out to every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988.

Yes, I know that both the Obama campaign and many reporters deny that he has received more favorable treatment than Hillary Clinton. But they’re kidding, right? Dana Milbank, the Washington Post national political reporter, told the truth back in December: “The press will savage her no matter what … they really have the knives out for her, there’s no question about it … Obama gets significantly better coverage.”

: LATER: I missed Jacques Steinberg’s story in the Times on Saturday that did, indeed, start to cover this, though I’d say it’s a much bigger story than this. See also Rachel Sklar’s complaint with his piece.

  • Jeff,

    I knew you were going to love that SNL skit. There’s certainly some truth to what you’re saying: Members of the media are biased — and many of them are biased toward Barack Obama. I’m supporting Obama, so it doesn’t bother me ;-) But since you support Clinton, I can understand why it bothers you. It’s not your journalistic integrity that’s leading you to fight this fight, is it, Jeff? It’s YOUR bias for Hillary. So, pot, stop calling the kettle black.

    And personally, I think Obama deflects Hillary’s baseless criticisms pretty well. He deflects, and he moves on — which is just what I want my president to do. Look at Hillary’s ridiculous attacks in the last couple of weeks, Jeff. Ridiculous! And you still want her to lead this country? Puhlease …

  • Dennis D

    The SNL clips would be funny as hell if they weren’t true. All I can think of is Chris Matthews claim that Obama sends a tingle up his leg.

  • PXLated

    — (Disclosure: I voted for Clinton.) —
    Shouldn’t that be in all caps and red ;-)

  • tonynoboloney

    I suppose it was bound to happen, with huge news operations in place 24/7. The media is totally out of control as well as out of touch with the average American. The MSM picked this years cantidates simple as that. I just don’t want to hear that “we deserve what we get” because that isn’t true, we got what they gave us. No one not even Hillary was big enough to fight off the monstrosity the media has become.

  • chico haas

    Couldn’t agree more. They’re all acting like Andrew Sullivan’s id.

  • Cooler Heads

    The news reports I just heard a few minutes ago on the radio are wildly pro-Clinton. Radio news is running clips of her advisors talking about how strong she is, how good she’ll be, etc.

    The media has fallen out of love with Obama. It was bound to happen. I predict a flood of pro-Clinton stories in the next 24 hours.

  • surya

    didn’t the NYT endorse Clinton (and McCain)???

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  • It is hard to find an individual voice in the media these days. As an outside observer it’s easy to spot the trends in reporting. Early in the campaign season Hillary got a pass from all her past misdeeds and was declared the rightful next President and Obama was written off as a fluke. Then the media (as well as most of the country it seems) fell in love with his ideas and started to give him a pass on the tough stuff. Now, the tide has turned yet again, and in order to not be called biased, the media is piling it on Obama and is back to endorsing the old ways of Hillary. Knee jerk reactions to critics.

  • Carlos B.

    Nice post. I voted for Obama and still support him, but definitely feel a little guilty that my opinion was in harmony with the media’s underpinnings.

    You said in this post and you’ve stated previously that the Clinton campaign hasn’t been as willing as Obama’s to play ball with the press, and you seem to not only imply that this is the reason Obama gets all the media’s love, but that it is somewhat underhanded and unfair for his campaign to do so.

    The Clinton’s have certainly had more than their fair share of bad publicity, but if they’re reluctant to deal with reporters on the campaign trail, does that not bode ill for what will happen when Hillary gets to the White House? I can’t blame her for being wary of media coverage, but don’t you think this reticence–no matter how well-justified–could translate into a lack of transparency as our leader? Not that it would compare to the unsettling secrecy of someone like Cheney or pretty much all the Bush Administration, but if all Hillary’s skeleton’s are out of the closet, what does she have left to be wary of in dealing with the media?

    As corrupt mega-corporations have shown, there’s certainly a difference in having a well-run PR department and being transparent and forthright to the media and further the public. But I certainly feel like the Obama campaign’s more inviting stance to reporters says something about the attitude his administration will take in being honest to the media and allowing them to keep the public informed–another step toward the ideal democracy we’re supposed to be living under.

  • I wonder how much is actually the press failing to act and how much is a lack of substance for them to act upon? While Obama does have a shorter track record (and hence less to attack), questioning that short track record can only be news for so long. On the other side, Sen. Clinton and more specifically her husband have been providing news worthy quotes and issues consistently for months.

    Maybe part of it is who is actually generating the news.

  • Hey Jeff,

    My earlier comment came off sounding really snarky, so I apologize for that. I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time, so I know you just want the media to be honest about the biases they have and stop pretending to not be biased, just as you’ve made your (pro-Hillary) bias pretty well-known.

    It’s comments like the one from “tonynoboloney” (“The MSM picked this years cantidates simple as that”) that really bother me because I supported Barack Obama before the freaking MSM got on the bandwagon. And I’d say the same is true of millions of independent-thinking Americans. We support Obama because we choose to support Obama — not because the media is making us do it. That’s a load of B.S.

    This issue of transparency (raised by Carlos B.) is the one that really concerns me. Hillary keeps stalling on releasing her campaign’s financial records (as Tim Russert pointedly revealed during that debate). What’s up with that? Obama, on the other hand, has campaigned tirelessly on transparency. Over 1 million individual supporters have now donated to his campaign to finance it, instead of special interest groups. (Hillary has yet to refute that claim by the Obama campaign.) That’s revolutionary — a revolution enabled by the Internet you so love and espouse, Jeff. I’d love to know what you think about that. That seems worthy of some discussion, don’t you think?

  • elizabeth

    The thing with bias is that most people just simply don’t recognize it in themselves, and that includes journalists. (Bias is no more and no less than one’s own personal frame of how one sees the world and events.) During the primary and caucus season Obama has received almost uniformly good and gentle press, which any serious media watcher would have to acknowledge. It is important to note, though, that the two big Chicago papers, the Trib and SunTimes, have in general been much more conscientious than the national press about asking questions and raising issues that do not always put Obama in the best light. Don’t get me wrong–there’s plenty of coverage and glowing reports about the “hometown guy” coming out of the windy city. I think the coverage has been fair, and Obama definitely has a broad base of support around Chicago. But, in Chicago people also know that with any candidate (especially one coming out of the Chicago Machine) it is silly to pretend that there are not some things hidden under rocks or just off the radar screen that need to be exposed to the light of day. And yes, this is OUR bias—-our frame—-our worldview surfacing, from years of experience.

  • tonynoboloney

    It is not my intention to be a troll on this site. I picked up Jeff’s by-line on one of the sites I daily visit. As a matter of fact Buzzmachine was the first Blogg site I had ever experienced a few years back.

    I do believe American politics is more media driven then ever before, and I do question major medias biases. I cannot remember a time when it was acceptable for news to have an agenda like it has today. As I sit in my living room watching CNN, FOX, MSNBC, as well as PBS and C-SPAN: I cannot help but feel betrayed and lied to and lectured at. I discern as much from the news by what is NOT said as I do by WHAT IS said. What a pitty.

    To Steve K. I say it is not a load of B.S. the MSM is a broken system run amock. The disconnect between the media and main stream America is astounding. If you believe there are “millions of independent-thinking Americans” not being adversley affected by the media, just visit any college campus in the country.

  • John

    Ironically, or painfully … on Morning Joe today they talked about how Hillary might be getting a pop from the SNL skit, but then they cut to the part in the skit that is disparaging to Hillary – the riff about how Hillary is so grating and unlikeable!!

    This generation of youngsters are the first never to play outside, they grew up on video games, and they can’t even run without looking awkward….. and, now they are mesmerized. This is not a good sign. The mechanisms of propaganda have been introduced to American politics.

    Is it just me… or does OBAMA purposely wear black and white clothes and present his family in a B&W image on his website to subliminally conjure up the thought of JFK? The B&W thing along with the “doing” MLK is his speech patterns, accent, and cadence leaves me disturbed that the youth is so impressionable.

    If Edwards “did” JFK he would be laughed off stage.

  • Harry

    sorry about my spelling muslim wrong .but the only covering of Obama the MSM is doing is the smears Hillary is shouting about. nothing being said about Hu in jail and the 1700.00 she took from a company that sexually abused women,refused to return the money.And you Jeff been biased from day one,towards anyone but Hillary.Woud any dem smear any dem the way she has.The MSM wants this to go on and on and on.Jeff please stick to your writting courses were your more knowledgeable thank much Harry

  • kat

    Yes, Jeff, don’t you dare criticize Obama. Harry doesn’t like that. He’d prefer things continue as they have been–no tough questions for the golden boy–just a free ride, despite the baggage that needs to be exposed.

  • David

    Ok, so if the press has an agenda here, what is its motive? What could the press gain from backing someone who had, until fairly recently, been considered a second tier candidate?

    Obama is in favor of net neutrality (or at least he is until he’s elected and the status quo cash starts flowing), hardly a favorite cause of the media, which essentially depends on barriers of entry to distribution to make money.

    Look, we’re probably going to have something like another Great Depression here. I’d rather have an optimist in the oval office with a fresh perspective who can think of novel approaches to try to solve the country’s economic problems, although having said there’s a little bit of protectionism creeping out of both candidates.

  • John

    Krugman: “What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent…”

    For what it’s worth, neither of Clinton’s senate opponents can be considered particularly serious.

  • GimletEyeGal

    I’m highly amused that Jarvis complains about the media piling on in favor of Obama when it’s largely the same media — Washington and East Coast-based — that declared Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee before one vote was ever cast in this election.

    It’s also the same media establishment that declared McCain dead in the water — again, before any of the primaries or caucuses took place. The press chased after Romney and Giuliani, at least until the votes started coming in.

    Never once in Jarvis’ analysis does he examine the breathless punditry that has so often been wrong from the start. The issue isn’t bias, but the quite-often incorrect analysis in media circles that has been downright embarrassing. (Disclosure, I voted for Obama, but I’m not mindlessly swooning over him.)

    The media is chasing what it considers the hot stories: McCain and Obama, who’ve been winning primaries and caucuses. Clinton has lost 11 in a row. Claiming “bias” is a red herring from someone watching his preferred candidate in serious trouble.

  • John,
    I’d say that Clinton has faced countless Republican opponents.

  • Steve

    I’d say she is her own worst enemy- “as far as I know” indeed!

  • Ryan

    I’d say that Clinton has faced countless Republican opponents.

    Yes, you’re correct, Jeff — Bill has faced countless Republican opponents.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s concede that Hillary has “faced” countless Republicans. So, because the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world have attacked Hillary in the past, she’s somehow qualified to be President? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t view being scarred and bitter as a qualification for the highest post in our country.

  • The ability to make enemies is an odd characteristic to claim in support of a candidate.

    It is true that Rodham Clintton has many opponents among conservative ideologues. The perception of a lack of evenhandedness, so far, in the coverage of the Democratic primary contest derives, in part, from the ferocity of the residual partisan anti-Clintonism from the days of her husband’s administration; in part from the indisputable fact that what was, at first, most newsworthy about the Obama candidacy were undeniably positive and attractive attributes — his oratorical skills, the unprecedented mobilization of the youth vote, his adept use of distributed new media to organize and fundraise, the astonishing size of his crowds at rallies.

    Of course, journalists had to report on those phenomena first and foremost. They were news. They happened to make him look good. He earned the positive press.

    Since the dominant organizaing principle of Campaign 2008 coverage is Reality Gameshow Journalism, the rules of Survivor or American Idol insist that the eventual winner must first undergo the extreme jeopardy of being on the verge of elimination and that all frontrunners must have an alliance formed against them, or “triangulation” as it is called in politics.

    The seeming negativity in attitudes towards Rodham Clinton last fall were the result her being the object of triangulation, not its practitioner. The complaint that Obama is facing no negative treatment no longer holds, since he became the clear frontrunner after the Potomac primary.

    If Rodham Clinton wins Texas and Ohio tonight, she will have undergone her drama of extreme jeopardy and will be able to play the Comeback Kid card, just as McCain did on Super Tuesday. If so, things between her and Obama will seem Even Stephen.

  • Ryan,
    Let’s not beat this horse. The point is that she has faced harsh opposition and examination and Obama has not. See Tyndall’s post below yours.

  • David

    Again, what is the motive?

    Why would an anti-Hillary and/or pro-Obama bias exist?

    Follow the money. Who would gain and who would lose?

  • David —

    The motive is to keep things competitive, favoring the larger-than-life contestants. If the crusty war veteran vs the bossy lady with the interesting marriage vs the young flashy silver-tongued black man does not sound like perfect casting for a Survivor showdown I do not know what does.

    So the news media’s campaign coverage facilitates the efforts of those risking elimination to undercut the frontrunner. Back last fall, that involved concentrating on an embattled Rodham Clinton. In the past two weeks or so it has turned to an overhyped Obama. Who knows which of McCain’s negatives will get emphasized if he ever seems to get the lead?

    Follow the money, you say. The money is in the ratings. So far Reality Gameshow Journalism has proved much more successful at attracting eyeballs than that old-fashioned Horse Race style.

  • Wonderfully said, Andrew.

  • David


    I completely agree with you. However I don’t know if this is necessarily an issue of bias for a specific candidate per se as is implied in several posts above. IMO it’s instead a phenomenon that can be traced to a “news” ecosystem that exists to sell more ads to mass audiences each year. It may manifest as bias for a specific candidate depending upon his/her position in the polls, but it is not necessarily reflective of an anti-Hillary conspiracy (though surely this must exist in certain quarters).

    For what’s it worth, I just see her as the big money candidate. That’s why I didn’t vote for her, although you could argue that the significant contributions to Obama from the ethanol lobby are disturbing given that corn-derived ethanol is one of the biggest shams in memory.

  • K

    Oh pleeeez. Why can’t anyone see the rose-colored elephant in the room? Not money. Don’t follow the money.

    Reporters want that “tingle up the leg.” Obama gets wonderful coverage because the media, on average, LIKES him. Reporters will vote for him. They want him.

    And thus, they see him through rose-colored lenses.

  • Jeff,

    You are right about media bias. The media suck up to Obama for the same reason they remained silent during Bush’s march to war in Iraq. They are afraid of losing favor with those in power (or likely to be). But mostly, they are afraid of losing favor with their audience.

    So when 70 percent or so of Americans supported the march to war, the media went along. When everyone seemed to want to love Barack without conditions, the media reflected that unconditional love. Now that it’s clear just as many people are behind Hillary, if not more, the media are likely to start to notice Barack’s warts too.

    The problem is that the media in the U.S. largely do not lead, they follow. They are beaten down by loss of circulation and loss of influence. They do not want to risk getting out in front and taking unpopular positions. They just want to keep their audiences happy.

    I don’t think this is a plan — it’s merely ingrained in the subconscious of reporters and editors. It’s reflexive.

    Of course, the media often end up often getting it wrong, which only diminishes their influence further — as with Iraq, and Barack.

    Kind regards,

  • MD

    Smells like another fake political argument. As if no person, especially a minority of any kind, isn’t going to face a backlash after riding high on a media wave. Obama’s has already begun. It only sticks in my crawl that it seems to result from an okay sketch on a declining comedy show (I saw that peter pan sketch last week, come on!).

    It’s already been pointed out that if he had lost 10 states in a row he’d be out on the street, plenty time on his hand to attend the Tavis Smiley summit. Conversely, when you lose 10 states in a row, you know what? The H is O (glenn fry reference, thanks Diablo). Your campaign might get scrutiny when you keep losing. Anyway tables are turned now so maybe the whining Clintonians can beg off of this one finally. Obama addresses the issue pretty accurately and also compares the Clinton camp to the reason why we hate the NBA now:

  • Guy Love

    Both videos were extremely funny and entertaining. Kudos to SNL for capturing the absurdity of the traditional media playing kingmaker. I can’t help but wondering how much of their herd mentality comes from conscious decisions behind closed doors vs. subconscious desires to jump on the current bandwagon of the press anoited candidate. If nothing else this current election should finally help the traditional media types to see how they are viewed by most of the public.

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