Media vs. Obama: Lovers' Quarrel, Not Divorce

Media vs. Obama: Lovers' Quarrel, Not Divorce

John Yoo, the former Bush administration lawyer (and frequent media target) notes at that the media’s reaction to the revelation that the Obama administration spied on the Associated Press is not just a feeling of outrage, but of betrayal. Yoo goes further, arguing that the AP scandal might never have happened at all had the media not been so close to Obama to begin with–had he not taken them completely for granted.

To some conservative critics, that might be a bridge too far: the Obama administration has certainly not been any nicer to its opponents, as the week’s other major scandal–the IRS harassment of Tea Party and conservative groups–reveals. 

Yet the media have certainly let the Obama administration abuse them repeatedly, without consequences.

It began during the 2008 election, when the Obama campaign developed the bad habit of leaving journalists stranded, refusing to allow them to travel back to DC with the candidate. The campaign also kept Obama’s running mate, then-Sen. Joe Biden, under wraps for weeks; the media accepted that arrangement, but complained effusively when the McCain campaign tried to do the same with newly-nominated Gov. Sarah Palin.

Once in office, President Obama began treating the media even worse. He rarely held press conferences–and when he did so, he often filibustered rather than answering questions directly. He tried to enlist all of the other networks in his quixotic campaign against Fox News–provoking, on one occasion, a rare show of resistance. He treated the White House press corps as an irritation, barring it from benign events–even, ironically, from events about transparency–and produced in-house media instead.

Through it all, the fan-club atmosphere that greeted Obama’s ascent–who can forget the Washington Post staff clutching their cell phone cameras when the new president-elect paid a thank-you call to their offices (above)–rarely relented. The press once complained Obama had not met with them for weeks; when he finally did so, they asked him little of relevance. Their latest complaint is that he did not let them follow him–on a golf outing.

But something may–temporarily–have shifted as the scandals have piled on, fast and furious (pun intended). It is not primarily the substance of the scandals that has moved the media to take notice, but rather the fact that the media are themselves the target or the injured party. 

The AP scandal is the most serious assault on press freedom in many decades; the IRS scandal echoes that too-familiar media milestone, Nixon’s Watergate. The Benghazi scandal also has an important media element–not only because it is now clear that Obama lied, but because the exposure of those lies has exposed the media’s own dishonesty. Last fall, the media hid the fact that Obama had pushed the false “YouTube video” story and downplayed terrorism. The media–with rare exceptions in the local press–also failed to ask Obama the painfully obvious question about what he had done to help Americans in danger.

The media have turned on Obama because, though they may not care much about the public interest, they care enough about their own interests. But only for now. 

In the 2011 Weinergate scandal, the tide turned when the beleaguered congressman attacked one journalist and tried to hoodwink the rest. He is back again. 

As yet, the media’s fight with Obama is just a lovers’ quarrel, not a divorce.