'My Job Is To Watch The White House Like A Hawk'

January 1st, 2009 2:47 PM

Liberal journalism professor Jay Rosen was puzzled when Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin wondered aloud whether he and other journalists should be skeptical of Barack Obama. Conservative blogger Jon Henke was downright flabbergasted:

I'm not sure I understand why this is even a question. Indeed, it would seem to me that it would be grounds for immediate dismissal.

"Immediate dismissal" is an overreach, but Jon is right to call Froomkin out for his bizarre musings about how to cover Barack Obama. No journalist should ever wonder whether skepticism of politicians is warranted; it always is.

The problem these days is that few mainstream journalists are the least bit skeptical of Obama. And the fact that the Post columnist tasked with covering the Obama administration is even thinking of giving Obama a pass, if only for an extension of the honeymoon that began with his candidacy, doesn't bode well for future coverage of "The One."

Froomkin's subtle confession of favoritism toward Obama is all the more disappointing when you put it in the context of what Froomkin said three years ago when his column faced fierce internal and external criticism. Then-Post ombudsman Deborah Howell called Froomkin's work "highly opinionated and liberal."

Froomkin changed the name of the column from "White House Briefing" to "White House Watch" in the aftermath, but he defended his work by portraying himself not as a liberal Bush-hater but as a watchdog of whomever is in the White House. "[M]y job is to watch the White House like a hawk," he told Rosen in a PressThink interview.

Froomkin added further insight into how he sees his job in an entry on the Post's blog (via BuzzMachine):

There is undeniably a certain irreverence to the column. But I do not advocate policy, liberal or otherwise. My agenda, such as it is, is accountability and transparency. I believe that the president of the United States, no matter what his party, should be subject to the most intense journalistic scrutiny imaginable. And he should be able to easily withstand that scrutiny. I was prepared to take the same approach with John Kerry, had he become president.
This column's advocacy is in defense of the public's right to know what its leader is doing and why. To that end, it calls attention to times when reasonable, important questions are ducked; when disingenuous talking points are substituted for honest explanations; and when the president won't confront his critics -- or their criticisms -- head on.
The journalists who cover Washington and the White House should be holding the president accountable. When they do, I bear witness to their work. And the answer is for more of them to do so -- not for me to be dismissed as highly opinionated and liberal because I do.

Those words don't square with the internal conflict Froomkin recently admitted:

So what do we do with President Obama? Do we treat him with the same skepticism with which we learned to approach Bush? If not, how do we hold him accountable?

Though his liberalism prompted Froomkin to overstep the bounds of good watchdogging at times, he was right about his job during the Bush administration; he needs to remember his role once someone who shares his liberal worldview is in the White House.

He said he was ready to be a Kerry watchdog, and in light of his recent public waffling about how to cover Obama, Froomkin had better be even more aggressive now or his journalistic reputation will be shot.

Cross-posted at my personal blog, The Enlightened Redneck