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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."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 17, 2008; 7:05 PM ET
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Did anyone read Tim Robbins speech given at an assemblage of America's elite broadcasters this past week in Las Vegas? I bring that speech up because it was so timely and it was the first time I have seen the influence of Obama in other than the political arena. He called for these leaders of broadcasting to quit dumbing-down their news for us, that we deserve better than that, that we are better than that!
ABC answered that call to rise up by an embarassing dumbing-down that made me about as proud to be an American as the
Bush/Cheney years have.
Check out Tim Robbins speech--it's marvelous (I refer mainly to the last 2 paragraphs)

Posted by: lost in the woods | April 18, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse


Obama won

To win, Obama simply had to not lose. Yes it was an ambush...and yes, he survived it. So, in a way, it did him a service. He can handle the Republicans: the dirt was thrown, and it didn't stick.

..most people tuned off early on... it was too boring and it left no impression.

...and for those who watched the whole thing...the most important impression is the last impression

and Obama went last...and he was good.

Obama's polls will go up.



Posted by: + | April 18, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

A couple of months ago I read an analytical piece that argued that a major, unspoken reason for the tender treatment McCain gets from the press is because of his long-ago wartime activities and his ongoing image as the tough-talkin' out-west "maverick." Most journalists, the article basically said, are pencil-necked geeks and have been ever since grade school, and--especially if they are males--are susceptible to feeling all flattered and fluttery when a bona fide tough old guy, the kind of guy who played football and got the girls in high school while the four-eyed journos were writing dumb articles for the school paper, pays attention to them and acts as if he respects them. (Or invites them to his luxury rancho and has the servants feed them something.) It's a form of hero-worship that has its result in McCain's worshipful press coverage, no matter what kind of stupid or inconsistent thing he says next. I think it's true.

Posted by: Anthony | April 18, 2008 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Ya...I saw Obama today in front of his supporters brushing off last nights' debate as if it were dandruff on his shoulders. What's the matter? Did those meanies hurt your feelings?

Bittergate, Ayres, Wright and Rezko are fair game just as BosniaGate was fair for Hillary. Obama pretends to scorn this kind of discussion while HIS CAMPAIGN put out at least six memos on the Bosnia flap. Folks that's called talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Obama is just too haughty by half. Our concerns about Obama and his associations are not dandruff to be brushed off cavalierly.

His attitude is reflected in his wife and his supporters.

Below is a transcript from Bill Maher's 3/21/08 show.

MAHER: [overlapping] Big mistake!
HARRIS-LACEWELL: [overlapping] No, right. No, because the issue is now - it's not Barack winning our votes, it's whether or not we're good enough to deserve a leader like that.
MAHER: Well--
HARRIS-LACEWELL: [overlapping] A leader who can stand - no, no--
MAHER: [overlapping] That's not a good thing to say.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: [overlapping] No, well, I mean, I will say--
MAHER: [overlapping] That's not going to get you--
HARRIS-LACEWELL: [overlapping]--I - I will say that I'm not running.
MAHER: Right.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Okay, right. So I will--
MAHER: [overlapping] But, his wife said something similar.
MAHER: Yes, she said, "We're only going to run once. You better get on the train now..."

Here's Harris-Lacewell, a black, female college professor is saying, Obama is BETTER than us and Maher (An Obama supporter) is trying to tone her down because he knows that line of thinking is a loser.

Maher then brings up the statement by Michelle Obama which echoes Harris-Lacewell's attitude.

Well Mr Obama, rest easy, we can survive letting your train go on by.

Posted by: Truth Seeker | April 18, 2008 2:23 AM | Report abuse

It is not a question of attacking Obama more or less than Clinton. It is a matter of worthless questions and totally distorted priorities. Worse than a waste of time, it was a perversion of sensible politics and sensible press ethics and responsibilities. I would say it makes me ashamed to be an American, but it's not my fault and I'm afraid my Flag lapel button wouldn't protect me from future assanine media attention.

Posted by: Eulenspiegel | April 18, 2008 12:30 AM | Report abuse


The 44th President of the United States



Posted by: + | April 17, 2008 11:25 PM | Report abuse

I think your comment itself proves the case against press coverage of this campaign.

McCain is happy to share doughnuts with you guys, but he's not going to actually talk about policy. After all, he's the guy who admitted he doesn't understand economics and who can't remember who's who in Iraq. But do any of you all ask him about these things? No, he's your bud.

You're right, neither Hillary nor Obama have welcomed you in the same fashion. To some extent, they've tried to give you position pieces -- boring, I guess. And as I recall, Obama has ocassionally come back to talk to folks on a bus or plane, but I guess that isn't good enough. No doughnuts?

No, what counts as journalism is a 90-minute high school initiation ceremony on prime-time TV. Those weren't questions, they were adolescent traps. Probably Stephanopolos should have mentioned his relation to the Clintons -- and he certainly should have said he got the Ayers "issue" from Sean Hannity.

Obama's writings were correct. The press doesn't seem to care about truth, or even ideas, it simply wants entertainment.

Posted by: Helen | April 17, 2008 11:20 PM | Report abuse


Obama won

To win, Obama simply had to not lose. Yes it was an ambush...and yes, he survived it. So, in a way, it did him a service. He can handle the Republicans: the dirt was thrown, and it didn't stick.

..most people tuned off early on... it was too boring and it left no impression.

...and for those who watched the whole thing...the most important impression is the last impression

and Obama went last...and he was good.

Obama's polls will go up.


Posted by: + | April 17, 2008 11:20 PM | Report abuse

What we witnessed last night was not a debate, It was an ambush. Was last night's debate supposed to be a joke or did it just turn out that way because of the incompetent moderators ? Charlie Gibson and George ( can't get enough of those good years that I worked for the Clintons ) Stephanoupoulos. Did anybody notice that Chelsea had her own lighting to try and make her look good and even a soft filter in front of the lens....Do you think that maybe she had her own camera devoted to only her close ups? How can McCain possibly lose this election. He has such a commanding grasp of economical issues . His way to fix the problem of soaring gas prices is " Let's give the people a tax holiday." I am afraid that it is John McCain who needs a holiday

Posted by: Ron | April 17, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Yet another example of how reasoned thinking quickly turns into prescience in unreasonable times.

Posted by: DC | April 17, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

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