NBC's Today Touts 'Barack Star: Obama on Cover of Rolling Stone'

Rolling Stone is a left-wing magazine which puts liberal politicians on its cover and this year has already featured a cover story on Barack Obama, yet despite the seeming lack of any newsworthiness in a second Obama cover story, this one written by an “unabashed Obama supporter,” on Wednesday morning NBC's Today show devoted a full story to how the just-released issue of the magazine illustrated “fascination” with Obama. Co-host Matt Lauer marveled: “On the cover not a musician but a politician, Barack Obama. It's the second time he's been featured there but this time there will be no cover lines, just that photo. The magazine usually does that for the likes only of people like John Lennon. So what is the fascination with the Illinois Senator?”

In Lee Cowan's story, with “Barack Star: Obama on the Cover of Rolling Stone” as the on-screen tag, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, who conducted the interview with Obama, gushed: “The tides of history are running strong and fast these days. Ride them or be crushed. Obama has history on his side and that's pretty irresistible.” Cowan then described Wenner as “an unabashed Obama supporter. So not surprisingly today's six-page spread offers no hard questions,” as if that's any different than the friendly approach taken by Cowan and his media colleagues.

Cowan proceeded to recite Obama's answers to the easy questions, starting with how “he describes his iPod as a mix of everything from Stevie Wonder to Jay-Z,” before tossing in his own adulation: “Just this week, Donatella Versace debuted a clothing line she says was inspired by the Senator.” Cowan concluded with a portrait of a humble Obama just trying to do good in the face of unwanted publicity:

Despite it all Obama says he no longer takes great satisfaction in being the center of attention. In fact he tells the magazine that feeding his vanity is not what's important, but doing good work is. The problem: with one, comes the other.
Rolling Stone's home page displays the cover and this plug for the cover story:
A Conversation With Barack Obama
The candidate speaks on being endorsed by Dylan and Springsteen, and when he first realized he could run for president.
The subhead over the linked article, which only includes part of what appears in the hard copy of the magazine: “The Candidate Talks About The Youth Vote, What's On His iPod and His Top Three Priorities As President.”

Oddly, the story/interview excerpt is listed as having been posted at a future date: “Posted Jul 10, 2008 3:28 PM.”

The MRC's Geoffrey Dickens alerted me to the story, aired during the 8 AM half hour of the Wednesday, June 25 Today show on NBC, and provided this transcript of it:
MATT LAUER: The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine hits the newsstands today. On the cover not a musician but a politician, Barack Obama. It's the second time he's been featured there but this time there will be no cover lines, just that photo. The magazine usually does that for the likes only of people like John Lennon. So what is the fascination with the Illinois Senator? Here's NBC's Lee Cowan.

[On screen headline, Barack Star: Obama On the Cover of Rolling Stone."]

LEE COWAN: The newsstand standard bearer of rock and roll, the cover that's launched a 1000 music careers is no stranger to Democratic politics either, it's almost a rite of passage. George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore -- they've all been on the cover, and this week Barack Obama is back, for a second time.

JANN WENNER, ROLLING STONE: The tides of history are running strong and fast these days. Ride them or be crushed. Obama has history on his side and that's pretty irresistible.

COWAN: Rolling Stone's creator, Jan Wenner, has interviewed nearly all of the previous Democratic candidates and is an unabashed Obama supporter. So not surprisingly today's six-page spread offers no hard questions, instead it offers a series of puzzle pieces, starting with music.

STEVIE WONDER SINGING: Barack Obama!

COWAN: Obama tells the magazine his taste is eclectic. He describes his iPod as a mix of everything from Stevie Wonder to Jay-Z. He admits though he's troubled sometimes by rap's lyrics but he credits rap for having shifted the culture and help desegregate music. He thinks the culture will shift on gay marriage too and that a consensus on civil unions has already been established. On the war, on universal health care, on energy, if changes aren't made in all three, by the end of his first term, he says he will have quote, "missed the boat."

WENNER: If the Congress is reluctant to see it his way, why he intends to go to his constituency and mobilize them.

COWAN: The fact that Obama has become the intersection of pop culture and politics is hardly anything new. Just this week, Donatella Versace debuted a clothing line she says was inspired by the Senator. But is all of this really a good thing? The Senator certainly thinks so.

BARACK OBAMA: I've done Letterman, I've done "The Daily Show," you know. Been on the cover of "Rolling Stone."

COWAN: But others aren't so sure.

JEFF BERCOVICI, CONDE NAST PORTFOLIO: What it risks doing, in my opinion, is, is making him easier to pigeonhole, you know, as, as sort of the candidate of, of the young people, the candidate of hype. He's favored heavily in the coastal areas and urban areas. His challenge looks like it's going to be to expand  beyond that constituency.

WENNER: I don't view Rolling Stone as a counter culture magazine. It's a magazine known for its coverage of politics and popular culture.

COWAN: Despite it all Obama says he no longer takes great satisfaction in being the center of attention. In fact he tells the magazine that feeding his vanity is not what's important, but doing good work is. The problem: with one, comes the other. For Today, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles.
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