By Dave Andrusko
While Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders are awash in media coverage, Richard Benedetto, a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist, raises an intriguing question of selective media passivity in a column that appeared last Friday in the Wall Street Journal: “How Obama Gets Away With It.”
What is the “it” that President Obama is getting away with? At a time of incredible voter discontent, “the nation’s chief politician, President Obama, seems to skate above it unscathed.”
Benedetto, who teaches politics and journalism at American University and in the Fund for American Studies program at George Mason University, initially offers several plausible reasons why, unlike the case with those running to succeed President George W. Bush in 2008, a central theme of the 2016 campaign is not “to heap blame on” the sitting President–in this case, Barack Obama.
Here’s an important early paragraph:
[A]nother reason—a big one—why Mr. Obama is able to avoid being a target is that he is a deft manipulator of the media, probably more skillful at it than any president ever. He heads a savvy public-relations machine that markets him like a Hollywood celebrity, a role he obligingly and successfully plays. One of the machine’s key tactics is to place Mr. Obama in as many positive news and photo situations as possible. Ronald Reagan’s advisers were considered masters of putting their man in the best possible light, but they look like amateurs compared with the Obama operation—which has the added advantage of a particularly obliging news media. [My underlining.]
Benedetto offers a series of recent examples that (my description, not his) are such slobbering puff pieces that they ought to embarrass anyone who calls themselves a “journalist.”
But the important point is there are serious issues of state–areas where things are going badly– about which the media does not hold President to account. Part of that is because Mr. Obama delegates the tough stuff to other, basking instead in speaking at college commencement exercises where he bashes Donald Trump.
However as you read Benedetto’s column, the most important explanation is an egregious failure on the media’s part to do arguably its most important function:
One of the news media’s main jobs is to hold public officials accountable, from the president on down. But Mr. Obama is the beneficiary of news-media managers and reporters who mostly like his style and agree with his policies…
Given such a congruence of opinion, Mr. Obama’s policies don’t receive the scrutiny and analysis they should. Reporters who criticize or dig too deep are cast by the administration as spoilsports or, worse, cut off from sources.
So, expert media manipulator, plus a conscious attempt to shield Obama from taking any heat for failure, and a simpatico media =more emphasis on “a cool Obama grooving with Aretha Franklin at a White House jazz concert” than on the economy, ISIS, and an Administration clearly on cruise control.
Just guessing, but I suspect whoever the next Republican President may be, he or she will not be treated quite so gently.