By “audacity,” I of course mean “utter shamelessness.” Over the past week, media reporters have tried to hold Republicans accountable for any personal attacks by anyone on Barack Obama, going out of their way to demand that GOP candidates defend Obama’s honor — especially Scott Walker, who has emerged as a top-tier candidate in the early campaign. This trend reached its nadir when two reporters from the Washington Post, Dan Balz and Robert Costa, demanded that Walker answer whether he thought Obama was a Christian — despite the fact that Walker has never brought up that topic. When Walker scolded them for their irrelevancies, the media instead took it as Walker “othering” Obama.
Here’s what Walker said in response to the question:
I don’t know. . . . I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian? To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press. The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”
And here’s how the media reacted, as I note in my column for The Week:
NBC’s Chuck Todd called it an “unforced error.” US News’ Susan Milligan accused Walker of “othering” Obama and CNBC’s Ben White accused Walker of “questioning the president’s faith,” even though Walker hadn’t ever raised the issue of Obama’s faith before the Post demanded an answer on it. In fact, Walker made it clear that the question didn’t interest him at all. The Post’s Chris Cillizza argued that Balz and Costa were justified in asking about Obama’s faith because Walker refused to engage on the first gotcha attempt about Obama’s patriotism. That context made asking about Obama’s Christianity “entirely defensible,” Cillizza wrote, without ever explaining what one has to do with the other — or with what Obama’s interior life has to do with the 2016 election.
The media pendulum thus went from the extreme of shrieking over Giuliani’s arrogance in declaring he knew Obama’s heart, to bellowing when Walker stated clearly that he not only couldn’t do so but didn’t really think much about it at all.
Obama certainly didn’t have to live by that standard in his 2008 campaign. He called his predecessor George W. Bush “unpatriotic” for running up debt. In 2007, while on the campaign trail, he accused Christian conservatives of having “hijacked” Christianity, in what was very much a blanket accusation of a lack of integrity in public proclamations of faith. Yet the media seemed very disinterested in demanding answers from other Democrats in the 2008 primary on Obama’s own remarks — or really, from Obama himself.
This goes beyond double standards, though. Obama’s policies may be relevant to the 2016 campaign, and Republicans have no reluctance to discuss those ad infinitum with the media. Obama himself is not; he’s not running for any office, and after two elections, voters know him well enough to make those questions moot at best. Obama’s interior life has absolutely nothing to do with 2016 — unless the new metric for the presidency is a measure of Obama worship, a rather odd prerequisite to apply to Republicans.
John Nolte calles this “pro-Obama McCarthyism” from the national media, in the sense of turning Obama into an ideal that must not be challenged:
To protect Obama and blast Republicans, the media are now engaging in outright McCarthyism.
That’s not hyperbole. Hear me out.
The question you must answer, and answer a certain way, is no longer, “Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?”
Instead, the media is now requiring that Republicans take a loyalty test that has only one question: “Do you now or have you ever held a negative personal opinion of President Barack Obama?”
And you had better give the answer
HUACthe media wants or you will be publicly and politically bludgeoned. Furthermore, you will also be destroyed if you do not publicly repudiate those among your colleagues who do not pass the loyalty test.
Tammy Bruce put it more succinctly:
Actually, there is something unhealthy going on here: an effort to intimidate and bully the American people into silence.
Mr. Fournier, of course, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of panic. A simple Google search conjures up an image of the liberal establishment frozen in their own hellish “Scream” portrait as they realize there’s a crack in the rule that “One must not speak ill of the light-bringer.”
Over the weekend, John and I engaged Matt Lewis in a spirited debate over Walker’s response, which Matt skewered as less than ideal. Both John and I argued over this for a good portion of the weekend, and Matt responded in the Daily Beast, to which my column responded in part. Today, Matt objects to my characterization of his argument in the column, and responds that he wants GOP candidates to both push back against media narratives and become expert at answering them:
More to the point, I take issue with his suggestion that I think “Republicans had better work with the media.” It is true that I don’t believe the media are inherently evil or “out to get you.” But I also think — and this is important for candidates to know — that the press are not your friends. Ed’s framing, I think, implies I support what might be thought of as collaboration or appeasement. But what Walker did was (inadvertently) work with the media — in the sense that he played right into their hands. He made this an irresistible story — so irresistible that we’re still talking about it today.
Conversely, what I am suggesting is that conservative candidates should learn how to communicate their message despite media bias. In other words, to overcome them. And part of that requires depriving their adversaries of the very types of stories that Walker has now generated. To paraphrase Nixon, Walker gave them a knife, and they twisted it with glee.
What I’m suggesting is that effective candidates shouldn’t give them the knife.
I disagree completely. Walker answered the question honestly and scolded the reporters, and it’s the media that turned that into a “Walker is a secret birther!” meme. And as long as we keep playing this game rather than shaming the reporters which engage in it — and only on one side of the aisle — then we’ll keep getting more of the same over the next two years. Matt and I will be continuing this conversation on my show today, so be sure to tune in for the fireworks.