Perhaps the American media has begun to awaken from their self-imposed trance over the election of Barack Obama. Politico’s Josh Gerstein figures that moment cannot come too soon, although he also notes that they have a great deal of self-interest in staying asleep. He asks whether a series of actions by George Bush would have received the collective yawn they got from the media when Obama took them, or a feeding frenzy by journalists instead (via Mediate):
A four-hour stop in New Orleans, on his way to a $3 million fundraiser.
Snubbing the Dalai Lama.
Signing off on a secret deal with drug makers.
Freezing out a TV network.
Doing more fundraisers than the last president. More golf, too.
Some of these we can answer. When the Bush administration — specifically VP Dick Cheney — met with energy producers in confidential advisory groups to promulgate their energy policy, both the media and the Democrats went ballistic. In fact, the latter sued to get the names of the attendees made public despite the fact that the administration is ultimately responsible for their policies.
Some of them require more speculation. For instance, George Bush never tried freezing out a network or publicly labeling it as an illegitimate news organization. Had he done so, perhaps with MS-NBC, the rest of the media industry would have risen in righteous indignation to demand an end to it. In the present case, the broadcast nets did finally push back against the White House, but only in one specific instance, and for the most part have focused on whether Obama and his team are right about their assessment of Fox than in the chilling impact of having a President demand that other journalists ignore Fox.
Had Bush snubbed the Dalai Lama, the media would have ripped him for deprioritizing human rights and ignoring a man of peace. That would have been an overreaction; the media probably got it more right than not with Obama’s postponement of their meeting, but it’s doubtful they would have given Bush that benefit of the doubt.
What does this mean? The American media is biased? We may as well report that water is wet, but Gerstein has a better point to make:
But others say there’s a larger phenomenon at work — in the story line the media wrote about Obama’s presidency. For Bush, the theme was that of a Big Business Republican who rode the family name to the White House, so stories about secret energy meetings and a certain laziness, intellectual and otherwise, fit neatly into the theme, to be replayed over and over again.
Obama’s story line was more positive from the start: historic newcomer coming to shake up Washington. So the negatives that sprung up around Obama — like a sense that he was more flash than substance — track what negative coverage he’s received, captured in a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit that made fun of his lack of accomplishments in office.
In other words, the press has a story line that they have to defend. If Obama gets exposed as a flop, and worse as a typical Chicago pol, then it makes their failure to properly vet Obama during the primaries that much more clear. In a sense, they created Obama, and his collapse would be their collapse as well.