FOUR grafs into his proof that the Press isn't in the tank for Barack, Barack is just so remarkably, so unprecedentedly slick that no one can get a good grip, Shafer--our guess is he was woozy from the requirements of all the reverse-counter-intuitive-intuitive-double-back-flip-anti-contrarian contrarianism the standard Slate article forces upon one (which can't be effortless even for the long-acclimated)--simply gives up the game twice. Twice:
What's unique about Obama and his candidacy is that almost none of the stuff the press throws at him sticks. Nor is the press alone in its inability to stick him. Hillary Clinton hurled rocks, knives, and acid at her rival even before the primaries (see this Jake Tapper piece from ABC News) and later upped the ante in desperation. She claimed that he was unprepared to serve as commander in chief and accused him of insulting gun owners and the religiously faithful. The eleventh-hour tactics may have won Clinton votes, but they failed to undermine Obama. [emphases mine]
1) Maybe common usage has finally devalued "unique" (or, more frequently, "very unique") to the point of total flaccidity, but I don't think so. (Shafer, though, must, since he actually employs "Teflon" in the next friggin' paragraph.) 2) Evoking Gregory Bateson in replaying the remarkable, and remarkably pervasive, Press Pundit critique of Hillary Clinton as the candidate who actually claimed she was the best qualified for the job! Oh, the gall of the woman! does not, oddly enough, quite convince us that your vision is so unclouded that what you say you can't spot must not exist.
Let's get Riley's personal feelings out of the way: I think this is a non-issue; I think there are serious concerns behind it, especially in light of 2000, 2004, and the catastrophes that followed. It's disappointing to me that so many Democrats, especially those whose sum total experience of national political campaigns are confined to one or both of those atrocities, think it's jake so long as it's the other guy's ox getting Gored--disappointing, but not surprising. I do not believe that Obama's treatment has approached the See No Moronity coverage of George W. Bush, or the statutory indecency of the public fluffing of John McCain, 2000.
But this is precisely not the issue. Let's roll the Press' standard defense of itself:
As long ago as March, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz demolished charges that the press was soft on Obama by cataloging the tough pieces published by reporters exhuming the candidate's past: his financial relationship with friend and fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who is now a convicted felon; his friendship with former Weather Undergrounder William Ayers; his casting of 130 "present" votes as an Illinois legislator; his nuclear energy compromise in the U.S. Senate, said to benefit a contributor; incendiary comments made by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and more.
Now, once again: maybe where you come from "demolish" means "wrote about" and "catalogue" means "five-item handbill"; maybe your street is divided by a medium strip, and maybe you eat a Po' Boy, or a Hero, or a Grinder. Certainly the stuff about Jeremiah Wright was laid on with a wheelbarrow, forget the trowel, but was this really negative coverage? Was it really coverage worthy of the name? Nobody ever quoted Senator Obama saying anything "incendiary about America", and he was almost universally praised everywhere except hopeless GOP sundown towns like The Corner for his "race speech" in Philadelphia. Sure, Wright managed to get himself back on the air for a thirty-second coda to his fifteen minutes. The use of this dreck does not count as tough coverage. It counts, as usual, as stupid sensationalism designed to hook the Lowest-Common Demographic (something, again, Senator Clinton would be roundly criticized for doing as a candidate).
Y'know, one can make the argument that the Press covered the Harken Oil story, or the McCain's Black Love Child story, in that both were out there, somewhere. But that would be to grossly overstate the case. The issue isn't whether stories get told--and anti-Obama stories are going to be told, so long as there's a FAUX network--it's about news judgments. It's about how long, and to what depth, stories are pursued. This is not 2000, or 2004; the Press has been found out, even if it took twenty-five years and a new technological information paradigm to catch people up with the 1980 election. There was an article about that in the Times! is no longer an answer.
To that list add the recent critical dispatches tarring Obama as a flip-flopper. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg found "the big papers … assembling quite a list of matters on which the candidate has 'changed his position,' including Iraq, abortion rights, federal aid to faith-based social services, capital punishment, gun control, public financing of campaigns, and wiretapping."
True enough. Which brings us to what should be the real complaint: that The Press comprises an awful lot of people who are paid an awful lot of money to tout horse races, and that's the coverage we get, with an extra scoop of hubris for good measure, and we're told to appreciate just how good that makes it. The Obama campaign consciously ran--let's make that "galloped"--rightward after the nomination was sewn up, so obviously and so patently that the only way not to cover it was not to cover him at all. And that he was now accused of "changing his position" on Iraq--by John McCain's lights, mind you--merely underlines the fact that he was allowed to go through the primaries--even before the primaries, Jack--portraying himself as the anti-war candidate while his position papers said something different.
It's the script, boys and girls, not a question of overt bias, and how long will it take to get these highly-overpaid scriptwriters to act like they understand the real basis for the criticism? Shit, there are minimum-wage Wal*Mart greeters who evince the classic symptoms of Stockholm syndrome combined with unregenerate pep-rallyism. How's "never to the sixth power" work for you? It's Obama, the Suave, Cool, but Untested vs. McCain, the Tried, the True, the Tired and Boring. If we had real journalism, except in fits and starts, it wouldn't be this way, and we wouldn't even be discussing it. If the Press was willing to learn from its mistakes, and wasn't largely self-contained (outside the hated internets), we wouldn't be discussing it. And if this election gave it another opportunity to feed the Anybody But Clinton itch in its marrow we'd be discussing how it is John McCain stays so sharp and so witty at 71.