Obama So Enthralled Reporters They 'Needed to Go Through Detox'

Discussing NBC News reporter Lee Cowan’s admission that “it's almost hard to remain objective” in covering Barack Obama, on Sunday’s Reliable Sources on CNN former CBS and PBS reporter Terence Smith agreed Obama is “absolutely” benefitting from “sympathetic” coverage and ex-Washington Post political editor John Harris revealed Post reporters “needed to go through detox” after coming back to the newsroom enthralled with the liberal Democratic presidential candidate. Recalling his days at the Post before helping to launch The Politico a year ago, Harris told ex-Post colleague and Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz:
Almost a couple years ago, you would send a reporter out with Obama, and it was like they needed to go through detox when they came back: “Oh, he's so impressive, he's so charismatic,” and we're kind of like, “Down Boy.”

Harris, however, held his journalistic colleagues accountable: “What Lee Cowan said is it's hard. Okay, it's hard. Do it. Detach yourself. Nobody cares about our opinions.”

Earlier, Kurtz noted how “Obama was riding a huge media wave out of Iowa. Comparisons to JFK. He is an inspiring speaker, a man who can heal racial divisions. Newsweek this week says ‘Was he a media-created savior?’ So, my question is, is he benefitting, at least at the margins, from sympathetic coverage?” Terence Smith, a former reporter for the New York Times, CBS News and PBS, where he covered the media for the NewsHousr, replied: “Oh, absolutely. I mean, he is a charismatic figure, there's no question about it....and so people are somewhat swept up in that.”

My Friday MRC CyberAlert item, “Williams Calls Claim of Pro-Obama Bias 'Ridiculous,' But...” recounted:

Barely 24 hours after Brian Williams devoted a Monday NBC Nightly News story to a glowing look at Barack Obama in which Williams showed Obama the Newsweek with the Democratic candidate on the cover and wondered, "How does this feel, of all the honors that have come your way....Who does it make you think of? Is there a loved one?", Williams took to his blog to call "ridiculous" the suggestion, fueled by an NBC News reporter's admission "it's almost hard to remain objective" in covering Obama, that NBC has any "bias." But NBC and MSNBC have been actively promoting Obama's candidacy. Back in 2006, Today co-host Meredith Vieira called him "electrifying" and a "a rock star in politics" who has "touched people" and pushed him to run: "If your party says to you, 'We need you,' and, and there's already a drumbeat out there, will you respond?" Last summer, the Today show uniquely showcased a union's stunt with Obama playing a health care worker. Reporter Lee Cowan served up this softball: "What does it say about the state of our health care that you've got a 86-year-old man being taken care of by a 61-year-old woman and you put the two of them together and they probably don't have a living wage?"

Check that January 11 CyberAlert article for a rundown of many more examples of the infatuation with Obama displayed by NBC and MSNBC on-air staff.

The relevant exchange on the January 13 Reliable Sources, picking up after Kurtz played MSNBC.com’s Web video of Cowan, backstage at an Obama event in New Hampshire early last week, telling Brian Williams: “From a reporter's point of view it's almost hard to remain objective because it's infectious, the energy, I think. It sort of goes against your core to say that as a reporter...”
HOWARD KURTZ: Kate Snow, I give Lee Cowan credit for raising that issue. Is it hard to remain objective in the face of this Obama phenomenon?

KATE SNOW, ABC News: Well, you know, I don't cover Obama, full disclosure. I cover Clinton. And I've been to a couple of Obama events. And I will say the contrast between his events and hers is striking. I mean, his events -- he is like a rock star. You go to these events and the crowds are enormous, there's an energy in the room. And I have written about that on our Web site. I wrote a piece once comparing and contrasting just the style and this sort of presentation difference between the two of them, so I can see his point.

I mean, it's easy to kind of get swept up in that, but, you know, I think we're all -- we're trying to be good journalists here. We're trying to cover these stories with fairness. And, you know, we have to do due diligence and be just as critical, look at them with just as critical eye as we would at any candidate, no matter how large their crowds are.

KURTZ: Obama was riding a huge media wave out of Iowa. Comparisons to JFK. He is an inspiring speaker, a man who can heal racial divisions. Newsweek this week says "Was he a media-created savior?" So, my question is, is he benefitting, at least at the margins, from sympathetic coverage?

TERENCE SMITH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, he is a charismatic figure, there's no question about it, as Kate suggests. And so people are somewhat swept up in that. There is a feel good emotion around the Obama campaign that -- as though it's bringing out the best in us, the very idea that an African-American could be treated equally, and well, and even be a promising candidate for president. So-

KURTZ: And I've heard some conservatives say that, people who ordinarily would not be a sympathetic to Democratic candidates.

SMITH: David Brooks has written to that effect. So people want to -- want this to work, and yet I hope and believe they are asking questions not about how he's saying things, but about what he's saying as well.

KURTZ: Hillary’s been on the national stage for 16 years. Obama is a new and exciting, and, as Terry says, inspirational figure. To some degree, are journalists rooting for the Obama story?

JOHN HARRIS: It wouldn't surprise me that there's some of that. You know, even when we were colleagues, when I was at the Washington Post, Howie, this is when I first noticed this. Almost a couple years ago, you would send a reporter out with Obama, and it was like they needed to go through detox when they came back -- "Oh, he's so impressive, he's so charismatic," and we're kind of like, "Down Boy." And so-

KURTZ: You're going to talk reporters down?

HARRIS: I felt that I did. And I didn't quite get what they were saying. Like, well, what's so great about it? In any event, what Lee Cowan said, is it's hard. Okay, it's hard. Do it. Detach yourself. Nobody cares about our opinions.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center