Sunday, June 14, 2009

Leftist Media Bias of the Day

Michael Wolff in the July 2009 Vanity Fair:
The balance of power has surely shifted--although you won’t get anyone in the White House to say that. Except every day you can read it in press secretary Gibbs’s cockiness and condescension.

You have to understand the primitiveness of the daily briefing--it’s a ritualistic sumo of dominance and submission. At least since the Bush-father administration (after the brilliance of the Reagan press operation), it’s mostly been the press dominating whoever the press secretary is, and the press secretary trying to avoid being broken as he or she does the job of trying to avoid giving out information. Among press secretaries in recent memory, there’s been the drowning George Stephanopoulos, the angry Ari Fleischer, and the hapless and tongue-tied Scott McClellan. (Exceptions include Tony Snow, the Fox News anchor, who continued to act like a television host, and Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart, whose approach was, at nearly any cost, to please the press.)

Gibbs has reversed this dynamic. It’s not just that he successfully holds the pressroom at bay. It’s that he clearly doesn’t take the press very seriously. Gibbs is perfectly affable and even, in his way, courtly. And yet he seems to be not quite listening. Nothing touches him. This is no doubt partly because everybody understands he’s in like Flynn. Unlike with most press secretaries, where the press has the leverage of often knowing more than the press secretary, who is usually a relatively weak West Wing link, Gibbs really knows all, apparently--he’s as present as anyone in the creation of Obama policy. There is too the Obama 30-point advantage--he’s got America eating out of his hand. Gibbs has, at least so far, an easy product to sell. And then there’s the personal insecurity on the part of members of the incredible shrinking press--their days are numbered and they know it.

All of which might have something to do in the dominance-and-submission equation with why, at the president’s 100-day press conference, there were no questions about the bailouts or Afghanistan, perhaps the two most intractable issues facing the administration. When the other guy is strong and you are weak, you try to behave yourself.

And yet, a funny thing: Gibbs, who surely knows something about the dwindling life of the establishment media, who as Obama’s campaign spokesperson was part of the most sophisticated new-media outreach program in politics, who is, with his own personal access and his boss’s overwhelming popularity, beholden to nobody, nevertheless appears to be playing the press game as straight and as conventionally and, in a sense, as humbly as it’s ever been played. "His M.O.," says David Corn, a longtime Washington reporter who is a regular at the daily briefing, is "to talk to the dinosaurs."

The established news organizations may have almost no pulse left in them, but you wouldn’t get an inkling of such a reversal in fortunes from the White House’s ritual obeisance. The hierarchy evidently remains as fixed as it’s ever been. The "change" guys have altered nothing. It might as well be, say, 1995, with the Times, the Post, the networks, CNN, the newsweeklies, and even 88-year-old Helen Thomas (I say 1995 because that was before the advent of Fox News, which, unlike in the Bush administration, where it was the first point of contact and virtual mouthpiece, hardly exists in the Obama media point of view) all given a regal pride of place.

In fact, it almost seems as though the Obama people have abandoned that grail of all White Houses, to bypass the mainstream media and go directly to the people, to get the message out, pure and unfiltered--which, with their millions of e-mail addresses and Twitter followers, never seemed so possible as now.

Instead, they’re wooing The New York Times as assiduously as Pierre Salinger did on behalf of John Kennedy in 1962. And, perhaps not surprisingly, The New York Times woos back--rewarding the president with a lavishness of coverage not seen since, well, J.F.K. in 1962. It’s an establishment lovefest.

It’s some perfect re-creation of a relationship between president and news media that has not been seen since the White House pressroom was a clubby place with reporters invited into the press secretary’s office for whiskey and cigars. It’s cozy. Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, who would have been, in previous administrations, the highest and most exclusive White House sources, have become almost casual quotes for the Times.

It is, curiously, a return to a time when the press was so much more dependent on the goodwill, and susceptible to the care and feeding, of the president. Indeed, The New York Times, and the rest of the established press, needs Barack Obama a lot more than he needs them. . .

They have been handed a most remarkable historical moment--in which they get to remake the media in their own image. They have the power and they are the subject. These people in this White House are in greater control of the media than any administration before them.

The only thing is, they mustn’t let on that they know it.
(via Elizabeth Scalia)


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Wolff mentions some things that should not be named, and displays some real observational skills as to what is happening. I sense a large blind spot in a ll this, however.

As accurate as it is, the focus is still entirely on the gamesmanship aspect of politics inside the beltway - what journalists consider the fun stuff, the part they're experts on. Missing from the entire piece, I am sure intentionally, but yet revealingly, are such questions as "Is what being said true?" "What are the arguments pro and con about these policies?" "Are the reporters' questions getting to the meat of the subject?"

It is rather like sitting in on a middle-school discussion of romances that are based on nothing. If he asked you out, would you say yes?...Courtney said that you said you didn't like him anymore, but that was because she wasn't there when Brandon said...

Carl said...

Do you think there was more of what's now missing during the previous Administration?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, I think that is just how journalists think. The competitive political angle is what they understand best, so all questions get seen through that prism. Bombing in Iraq? Do you think this will affect the president's credibility when he meets with Congress later this week? Unemployment is up? What does this mean for the Democrat's chances in the key states of...? What everyone else calls reality is just a set of pieces on a gameboard in DC to them.