Former USA Today Reporter: 'Watchdogs Are Heeling for Obama'
Former USA Today White House correspondent Richard Benedetto offered strong words for his old colleagues at Politico.com. The headline was "Watchdogs are heeling for Obama." Benedetto feels the "mainstream news media" have been burnishing his image and offering few challenges, that they seem "mesmerized by the glamour" of Obama:
Last week, I asked my journalism and political science students at American University to grade the news media covering the Obama administration for the first 100 days. The consensus fell between a C+ and a B-.
However, if I asked President Barack Obama’s media strategists to grade the press corps covering their boss, I bet they would mark their cards with an A.
Why? With few exceptions, the mainstream news media have been dutifully pushing the Obama message, burnishing his carefully crafted image and offering few challenges when he makes questionable or misleading pronouncements, gestures or policy statements. In short, they seem mesmerized by the glamour of this new and different president. He is keeping them so busy with skillfully staged daily travel, speeches, meetings and photo ops that they hardly have time to ask tough questions or add context to their stories. Whatever Obama says, or doesn’t say, is usually good enough for them.
No comment from the president on pirates taking hostage the captain of a U.S.-flagged ship? No problem.
Get a new dog? Three days of extensive coverage everywhere.
Obama strategists must be giving each other fist bumps as they chortle, "Boy, have we got them eating out of our hands."
Benedetto protested that Obama is offered credit for changing the tone from the Bush talking points, when in fact he’s merely repeating soothing things that President Bush said:
For example, when Obama spoke to the Turkish Parliament earlier this month, the big news story was his declaration that the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam." ‘
The phrase was headlined everywhere as a major departure from the bellicose Bush, who, by implication, was at war with Islam.
But one fact was missing from most news stories. Bush said the same thing many times, including in September 2006, before the United Nations General Assembly — hardly an obscure forum.
And that wasn’t the only evidence:
Another example: Last week, when Obama attended the Summit of the Americas, he again seemed to draw a contrast with Bush by suggesting that anti-American sentiment in Latin America stemmed from the U.S. (Bush) ignoring the region’s humanitarian needs.
"If our only interaction with many of these countries is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence," Obama said in a news conference.
The widely reported statement went unchallenged in the press. But the fact is that in fiscal 2008, the U.S. under Bush sent nearly $1 billion to Latin America for such nonmilitary needs as schools, health care, anti-poverty programs, refugee assistance and economic development.
A few news outlets, notably The New York Times on April 3, have sporadically noted some similarities between the policies of Obama and Bush, especially in foreign affairs. Yet the media honeymoon continues:
– Rock-star coverage by the TV networks of the president and first lady’s tour of Europe.
-- An April 12 puff piece on White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on the front page of The Washington Post, followed two days later by a similar profile of his deputy, Mona Sutphen.
– A touching April 19 New York Times article, fed to the paper by the White House, on how the president reads 10 letters a day from ordinary citizens who write him.
This is all well and good, as long as we do not forget our function as government watchdog. So far, we have.
B- is a bit generous. C+ is about right. It’s time to start barking.