Friday, January 16, 2009

In The Tank For Obama

President Obama is going to have a lot of sh** on his plate as he assumes the Presidency... wars on two fronts, a huge political payback expected from his own party, and worst of all, of course, a crippled economy. But one big advantage Mr. Obama will have, at least at the start, is the comfort of knowing he will have the news media fawning over his every move.

You think this is easy for me to write? I spent 20 years taking calls from angry WMAL listeners accusing us of being biased - usually to the left. I always thought the notion was absurd - that the media was more more interested in throwing light on a story than caring which political party was exposed by that light. But times - at least from my current viewpoint - have changed.

Perhaps it's just the pretense of objectivity that has been dumped. Fox News has been accused of being a conservative think tank for years, but I think it took MSNBC's glaring and deliberate lack of objectivity during the 2008 presidential campaign to really show where the media has gone. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann not only showed their political stripes - they essentially dared anyone to challenge their right to do so. MSNBC at one point stopped using the pair as "anchors", and relabeled them as "commentators", but that pretense was dropped by last night, when Olbermann was back in the anchor chair for the President's speech.

But cable TV news is one thing... Now the Washington Post has basically thrown in the towel. Yes - it's making an effort to feign neutrality in the "A" section... But just take a stroll back to the Style section, where they are giddy with both the arrival of Obama, and the departure of Bush. TV critic Tom Shales could barely contain his glee at the President's farewell speech:

A President's Parting Words: Convincing, at Least, to Himself
By Tom Shales

Friday, January 16, 2009; C01

Only his remaining ardent supporters would probably classify last night's TV appearance by President Bush as reality television. On the other hand, detractors -- a sizable group, judging by popularity polls -- would likely say George W. Bush's farewell to the nation, delivered from the East Room of the White House, had the aura of delusion and denial.

You can read Shales' entire column here. You'll see him give credence to Mssrs. Olbermann and Matthews, and make the argument that the speech may have been Mr. Bush's best, if only because it was his last.

Lest you think this was an isolated case - just take a look at what happened when President-elect Obama paid a visit to the Post yesterday for an interview with the paper's editorial staff - Here's the pool account by NY Times reporter Helene Cooper:

After three and a half hours at his transition office, PEOTUS obama took another 6 minute ride through washington, arriving at 157 pm at the nondescript soviet-style building at 15th and L street that houses the washington post.

Around 100 people--Post reporters perhaps?--awaited PEOTUS's arrival, cheering and bobbing their coffee cups.

Pool is holding in a van outside, while Mr obama does his washington post interview, and will exercise enormous restraint by ending report before saying what really thinks about this turn of events.

Staffers at the Post were defensive about that description of Mr. Obama's visit, but they didn't really try to deny their revelry, either.

Look - call me idealistic if you wish, but I earned my journalistic chops in an environment where it was pounded into me that a reporter does not take sides in a story.... They instead report the story, and leave it to the reader/listener/viewer to interpret the news. The line has been getting more blurred as the years have gone by, and I fear it has simply melted away at this point.

At one time - even within the span of my career - money was largely a non-issue within a newsroom. Reporters and editors had the freedom to hone their craft without the pressure of having to worry about where the revenue was coming from. There was a tall wall between the accounting and news departments. That wall has long since come tumbling down, and now I fear news organizations are feeling the pressure to give the audience what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, lest they take their business elsewhere.

I have no reason to believe President Obama will be anything less than an excellent Commander-in-chief. But when and if the sh** hits the fan in the administration, how do we know we'll get the real story from a news media that can't objectively cover the President? Who's going to be the first reporter to break away from the pack? And what will he/she do when his/her membership card in the "Cool Kids Club" is revoked?

I used to swear that this kind of "Mainstream media" bias did not exist.

Now I worry that the fourth estate has gone to foreclosure.

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