Howard Kurtz tries his best to give his colleagues a break in his reporting on Barack Obama’s visit to the offices of the Washington Post. He disputes the New York Times’ reporting that Obama was met by cheers in the newsroom, and adds a bit of snark towards Helene Cooper near the end. Despite himself, Kurtz winds up painting a picture of … well, gushing reverence:
Note to media-bashers: There was no ovation. Many people were angling to see Obama up close, but the most excited newsroom staffers appeared to be non-journalists, including one clerical employee who was heard to shriek that the president-elect had shaken her hand.
The mob scene (while not quite as large as when Pitt was studying the newsroom for a movie from which he later withdrew) underscored one thing: Obama is not just on the verge of assuming the presidency, he is a worldwide celebrity.
Does the episode, which some staffers muttered was a tad embarrassing, mean the paper’s staff has a soft spot for Obama? Not really. It means that when an extremely famous and soon to be very powerful person shows up at the office, journalists act like people everywhere. They gawk.
Hmmm. Aren’t reporters supposed to be jaded observers of the human condition? Bloggers get a lot of criticism, some of it deserved, for their starry-eyed view of politicians, but for the most part, bloggers are part-timers who don’t cover politicians for a living. The entire point of journalism is not to get rubbery when the “extremely famous” and “very powerful” arrive on scene, but to treat them with respectful skepticism or at least objectivity.
So what did the Post’s staff ask Obama when they had the president-elect in their lair?
- “Did you like Ben’s Chili Bowl?” (from reporter Theola Labbé-DeBose)
- Another staffer asked about the family’s dog search.
I’m sure Ben Bradlee would be proud.
Kurtz equates the visit with one from Brad Pitt while the actor researched a role, but the two are not equivalent. Pitt doesn’t hold elective office and doesn’t have power to impose policy; gushing over his celebrity doesn’t mean anything in the long run, although I’d be surprised if the Post’s movie reviewers had the same reaction. Obama deserves to be treated with respect, but he’s not just another Teen Dream celebrity. He’s our next President, and it would have been nice to see the Post use the visit to do something other than “gawk” at The One.
This question asks itself: Would the Post’s staff had treated George W. Bush like a visiting movie star in January 2001? Would all work had “ground to a halt” in a visit by Ronald Reagan in January 1981? And Reagan actually was a movie star. If they’re going to fawn over Obama now, we can expect a lot more of it over the next four years.
Kurtz delivers a classic comeback to Helene Cooper at the Times, though, for her upraised nose at the architecture of the Post’s building:
One of the pool reporters, Helene Cooper of the New York Times, seemed less than enthusiastic about the incursion into Post land. She wrote that Obama arrived “at 157 pm at the nondescript soviet-style building at 15th and L street that houses the washington post.” All right, it’s no architectural prize, but at least we haven’t had to mortgage our headquarters like a certain Manhattan-based newspaper.
That’s worth the price of admission for this column. Nicely played, Howard.