The Candidates as Media Critics
By Perry Bacon Jr.
In recent years, Republicans have made an industry of bashing the media for what they describe as its liberal bias. But in 2008, the picture has flipped: John McCain has invited reporters to his Arizona home and backed a media shield law, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have frequently acted as sharp critics of the press.
Obama's post-hoc blast at last night's debate was only the latest in a long line of complaints from the 2008 Democratic candidates. Last month, the Illinois senator complained about how the long career of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has been distilled by the press into "a half-minute sound clip" and an "endless loop of you YouTube [videos] and cable news," relying on "five or six of his most offensive statements."
For her part, Clinton spent the week before the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries saying the press wasn't hard enough on Obama, citing a Saturday Night Live skit mocking the media as evidence. Then, as reporters focused on Obama campaign controversies, the Illinois senator objected that the press was only asking tough questions because they been egged on by the Clinton campaign.
Such dynamics were foreshadowed in Obama's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope" -- the title comes from a line in a Wright sermon -- in a short section on the press that now seems especially prescient.
Two years before daily news conferences and attack conference calls became standard campaign tactics -- often launching stories -- Obama wrote of "competing press releases so alluring to reporters" that they could not resist, because journalists are wedded to conflict.
""There is no great reward for those who speak the truth," he wrote, "particularly where the truth may be complicated. The truth may cause consternation, the truth will be attacked; the media won't have the patience to sort out all the facts and so the public may not know the difference between truth and falsehood."
"What comes to matter then is positioning -- the statement on an issue that will avoid controversy or generate needed publicity, the stance that will both fit the image his press folks have constructed for him and one of the narrative boxes the media has created for politics in general."
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