Time Editor: Obama Is Charismatic, Super-Competent, Stupendous Star of the Planet

In our year-end edition of the Best of Notable Quotables, two of our winners for outrageous liberalism were unloaded on the Charlie Rose show on PBS, a very comfortable TV salon for liberals to speak freely without conservative rebuttal. On December 18, the Rose show was one stop for Time editor Richard Stengel to tout his "titanic" figure Barack Obama as the magazine’s person of the year. Rose played the hype up in the show’s opening:

STENGEL: The story of Barack Obama was the great overarching, titanic narrative of this past year. And so it just -- it would have been pretty much impossible not to select him.

ROSE: And a narrative that had global proportions.

RICK STENGEL: Absolutely. I mean, he was Person of the Year in the most universal sense.

Rose clipped it short, but Stengel’s expression concluded: "I mean, he is the most popular man on the planet, the cynosure of everybody`s attention on the planet. So I think it was just inevitable." Perhaps "cynosure" is even too brainy a word for PBS audiences. But it works for media liberals. Dictionary definitions are "something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc." or "An object that serves as a focal point of attention and admiration."

The interview itself centered on how impossible it was not to offer homage to Obama:

ROSE: Everyone anticipated this would be your man. Hard not to do that.

STENGEL: Hard not to do it, yes.

ROSE: Okay, so –

STENGEL: Can you imagine what we would be talking about tonight if he was not the Person of the Year?

ROSE: We would be talking about you or something. So what? Just automatically – you didn’t even think about anyone else?

STENGEL: You know, in some ways, I feel like Person of the Year was invented for someone like Barack Obama. I mean, from the loose defintion, it’s somebody who affected the news more than anyone else, who dominated the news.

This is where that discussion of Obama’s titanic narrative and his global proportions kicked in. He was also touted for quickly resetting America’s image from the damaging Bush brand:

ROSE: I’m intrigued by whether the whole world is now moving to Washington – I don’t mean individuals, but the focus of the world, because of this man in that place is going to be somehow, even eclipse New York and London and Moscow and everywhere else.

STENGEL: Well, it does reset things for America, in a way. I mean, we have talked before about how Brand America under the Bush administration for the last eight years was really hurt and damaged. He is a kind of one-man fixer-upper in one fell swoop – which doesn’t mean, of course, that a year from now, or six months from now, you know, wer’e not going to be saying ‘Uh-oh, he’s taken the wrong course’ or ‘He’s not doing as well as we thought.’ But he has rejuvenated Brand America in one election cycle.

Stengel just can’t stop with the praise:

STENGEL: As we say in the story, it’s not just he’s charismatic, it’s not just that he’s a stupendous speaker. What he proved is that he’s hyper-competent, that he’s super-competent, that what he set out to do, he executed. I mean, we sometimes dismiss this [?], but he ran a $750 million operation for the last two years to get himself elected. He said he was going to engage people. He said he was going to run a populist campaign. He said that he was going to run a campaign that was above board. He did all of those things, he executed them, and he won. I mean, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment.

After a few more minutes of Obama worship, a fraction of self-awareness emerged, even as Stengel expressed amazement that his guru Obama would instruct him on how he should be evaluated:

ROSE: Now, some people watching this are going to say, one more time, there are two journalists in New York, in a television studio, sort of saying all these wonderful things about Barack Obama. Should we not pause, they may be saying, and I ought to say, shouldn`t we not pause, A, and talk about, one, the magnanimity -- the largeness of the problems, and secondly, he is not Superman? Where are the warts? Where are the areas in which he has to prove to us that he can not only talk the talk, he can walk the walk?

STENGEL: Well, our second question to him was ‘How do we hold you accountable?’

ROSE: Exactly.

STENGEL: And again, what was interesting about that –

ROSE: Yours is much better than mine.

STENGEL: Right. It’s one sentence. And it was interesting is he had already been thinking about that. I mean, you look at the transcript of the interview – I mean, he lays out six or seven ways that we hold him accountable. And I think that is the challenge now, for –

ROSE: Lay it out for me. What did he say?

STENGEL: He said, you know, will people feel – in fact, we asked him, how do we hold you accountable by the next midterm elections two years from now? He talked about, you know, have we seen some progress on the economy? Have we seen some progress on helping the infrastructure? Have we seen bipartisanship in Washington? I mean, he laid out a number of things, metrics of how to judge him. But to go your other, larger question, I mean, he`s certainly having a honeymoon now. He`s certainly been...

ROSE: Most presidents have -- even though most of them have not had -- Clinton or Bush or anyone else -- a 75 percent approval rating. Many have been down at 50 to 60 when they took over.

STENGEL: Right. I think it will be a challenge. I think it will be a challenge to how do we cover him? Just -- just the way, as a candidate in many ways, he was -- as Washington said of his presidency, "I`m walking in sand that nobody has walked in before and people will have to follow me." The same thing happens once he`s in the White House. I mean, it is a different paradigm now, and the coverage will have to adapt and change to it too. You know, a lot of people would say, and I would agree with this, is you have to be as strict with him, as rigorous with him as you were with George Bush or as you would be with any president, and that goes without saying.

That utterance deserved a laugh track. The media is also supposed to be rigorous and strict with presidents before they win the presidency, but Time magazine has failed that test. Consumers should be wary of the idea that the magazine will ever gain a sense of balance about Barack Obama, after more lines like this discussion of his biracial identity:

ROSE: And his story of that in his first book is just remarkable. And it shows A, a search for identity, and it also shows a remarkable self-awareness.

STENGEL: Really quite extraordinary. I mean, the EQ that he demonstrates in his own memoirs...

ROSE: Emotional intelligence?

STENGEL: Emotional intelligence, is sort of off the charts for someone that you think of as -- who hasn`t even become president yet.

Stengel's emotions are certainly off the chart, if not his intelligence. Doesn't anyone who wants to be seen as an objective journalist keep his emotional attachments a little more hidden than this? But today's "news magazines" are in no way attempting to be reserved and objective. They're partisan opinion magazines, and proud of it.

[The screen image comes from Charlierose.com, where you can also view the video.]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis