Deception & Misdirection
The President who was “too perfect”: How the media gave us the Obama disaster
[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]
President Obama’s disregard for the law and his abuse of power were utterly foreseeable.
From the IRS targeting of the President’s opponents (and the convenient “loss” of evidentiary e-mails along with backups and backups-of-backups), to the illegal mass spying by the NSA (literally billions of violations of the 4th Amendment), to the intervention in Egypt and the attempt to intervene in the Syrian civil war (in both cases, effectively on the side of Al Qaeda), to the use of immigration policy as a political weapon (and the resulting humanitarian crisis on the border), to the illegal passage of Obamacare (followed by the President’s refusal to obey the very law that bears his name), there’s nothing that President Obama has done that should come as a surprise.
The fact that his behavior and the behavior of those around him did surprise many people is a tribute to the bias of the news media, the degree to which they were advocates for Obama and actively worked to hide unsavory aspects of his background.
The news media had a duty to warn the American people, and failed to do so. The result: the dead-in-the-water economy (shrinking almost three points, annualized, in the first quarter, with workforce participation at a 36-year low), the Middle East in flames and China and Putinist Russia on the rise, and a culture of corruption that stretches from NASA to the Census Bureau to the IRS to the EPA.
Here’s some evidence of that foreseeability: a memo I wrote for a prominent political activist shortly after the President’s election in 2008.
FROM: Dr. Steven J. Allen
Subject: Media bias in 2008
December 26, 2008
Some random thoughts:
This was the Year Journalism Died.
Until this year, it was possible for a reasonable person to argue that media bias was in the eye of the beholder. Sure, conservatives saw a liberal bias, but liberals might see a conservative bias, and who’s to say who’s right?
Until this year.
This year, the media were so deep in the tank for Barack Obama, that no rational person could deny it.
One reason is that the bias was reflected not just, as usual, in the general election, but also in the primary – not just against McCain-Palin, but against Hillary Clinton as well.
This year, good liberal Democrats, if they were pro-Clinton, found themselves treated the way conservatives are usually treated by the elite media.
Bill Clinton’s criticism of Obama was preposterously called racism. Conservatives’ criticism of Obama’s tolerance of — some would say “partnership with” — terrorists and hate-mongers was preposterously called racism.
Open sexism against Hillary Clinton was tolerated, just as it would later be tolerated in the case of Sarah Palin. The Washington Post wrote about Hillary’s cleavage, and about Sarah Palin’s phantasmagorical shopping sprees. A Today show reporter asked: “If Sarah Palin becomes Vice President, will she be shortchanging her kids or will she be shortchanging the country?” (Never mind that Bobby Kennedy ran for president with 10 kids and one on the way, without criticism based on that fact.) And Chelsea Clinton, campaigning as candidates’ grown children usually campaign, was described on MSNBC as being “pimped out.”
McCain, it was suggested, was a crotchety old guy with senile dementia, no matter that he made fewer gaffes than Obama or Biden or that, when he told jokes at the Smith Dinner [a famous charity fund-raiser] or on “Saturday Night Live,” he was actually funny, unlike his opponent.
In the media, Palin was a Wasilla hillbilly, white trash, or, as the snobs say in Alaska, “Valley Trash,” what with her Minnesota accent and her having to enter beauty pageants so she could afford college, and – as HBO and The Atlantic put forth – her pretending that her grandchild was her own child. Chris Mathews asked, regarding Palin vs. Biden, “Do you think ‘cute’ will beat ‘brains’?” (“Brains,” one notes, was Biden, the guy who claimed recently that, to calm the American people, FDR went on TV in 1929.)
Senator Clinton was, in the media, a “rhymes with witch.” Even Tina Fey, defending Hillary, accepted the stereotype by arguing that “B**** is the new black.”
When Obama was criticized unfairly, punishment was severe. Look what happened to E.D. Hill of Fox News after she made her infamous “terrorist fist-bump” comment about the Obamas, which she clearly did not mean seriously. Her show was cancelled within a week, and her contract, which expired in November, was not renewed. But if anyone in the media had made a racist criticism of Obama comparable to the sexist criticism and age-ist criticism that was often aimed at other candidates, the person making that remark would have been fired immediately and escorted from the building.
Some conservatives took pleasure in the treatment of the Clintons and their supporters; it was schadenfreude, that liberal Democrats were finally feeling what it’s like to have your words twisted, to have every story tilted against you, and to be criticized for your appearance or other personal qualities. But other conservatives – Rush Limbaugh, for example – saw it as a “teaching moment.” That’s one reason why, toward the end of the Democratic primary contest, and at Rush’s urging, a significant number of conservatives voted to keep Senator Clinton’s campaign alive. They wanted to extend the teaching moment.
As the Clintons got the treatment usually reserved for conservatives, Barack Obama was cut slack like no other candidate in history. Back in the days when the Hearst papers covered the campaigns of William Randolph Hearst, at least there were other big papers on the other side. This year, among the big media, only Fox News even attempted to cover Obama fairly – and, interestingly, a number of independent media studies have indicated that the most even-handed campaign coverage this year was on Fox News.
Can you image the coverage, if the private gathering launching the first campaign of John McCain or Sarah Palin – or Bill or Hillary Clinton — had been at the home of, say, a known Ku Klux Klan bomber, or someone who was known to have bombed an abortion clinic? Or if one of them, as an elected official, had funneled money to the known-terrorist’s charitable organization, and been given control over so much of that charity’s money – tens of millions of dollars – as to be declared a “philanthropist” by a local paper?
(Remember that Ayers and Dohrn, in the ’70s, openly declared that they were not “anti-war,” as they have been described, but they were part of the war, fighting on the other side; that Dohrn expressed her admiration for the work of the Manson Family; and that Ayers dedicated a book to Sirhan Sirhan.)
What if McCain or Palin or one of the Clintons had attended a white supremacist church for 20 years?
What if one of them had come from a political culture as corrupt as that of Chicago, or had, running the campaign, a top lieutenant in a machine like the Daley machine?
Consider: Frank Marshall Davis, a leading African-American poet and journalist, and a supporter of the Communist Party, moved from Chicago to Hawaii, where he became something of a father figure to a young Barack Obama. We know this because one of the Obama autobiographies talks about a person named “Frank” who, from the description, can be only one person, Frank Marshall Davis. Now, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong or suspicious about that. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything with regard to whether Barack Obama should be president. But Davis was at one time a significant figure in African-American politics, and Obama appears to have patterned some of his life after Davis’s, and it’s hard to understand why the media simply refused to report on his relationship with Obama. It’s just weird that nobody reported on it. Except…
Except that every mainstream reporter in America was aware of this fact: The reporters who brought down Richard Nixon went down in history as heroes. But a reporter who brought down Barack Obama would go down in journalistic history as a villain. And reporters know that every time you vet someone in public life, there’s the chance that you’ll find something damaging.
People are people, and probably every candidate has something in his or her past that, if exposed at the right moment in a campaign, could – fairly or unfairly – cost that candidate an election. What if, by reporting on Obama’s relationship with Davis, you inadvertently provided Obama’s opponents with such a tidbit or nugget that prevented the election of the first African-American president? At that point, your journalism career is over. Look at the criticism that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos got, just for bringing up an embarrassing item or two in Obama’s past. Imagine if their questions had cost him the election.
Some reporters are non-ideological, and wanted to treat Obama the way other candidates are treated, but they got the message, and if they didn’t, their producers or editors did. So Barack Obama is about to become president without ever having been vetted. Perhaps he will turn out to be a saint, but I doubt it. Most likely, now that his place in history is secure, information will start to come out, and people who voted for Obama on false pretenses will feel betrayed, and resentment of the media will rise to levels higher than ever before.
The bias in favor of Obama wasn’t just a negative one, of course. It wasn’t just what the media didn’t report.
It’s also what they reported that wasn’t true. Newsweek, among many others in the media, noted that, although some claimed Obama was raised a Muslim, in fact, he was raised a Christian. (This “fact” was often repeated by Obama supporters such as Colin Powell.) The truth is that Obama was raised by an agnostic mother, by a Muslim stepfather (who had him listed as “Muslim” in school records), and by Unitarian grandparents, and Obama reported in his autobiography that he became a Christian as an adult. There is not one shred of evidence suggesting that he was “always” a Christian, and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Again, as in the case of the relationship with Davis, this does not reflect negatively on Obama. After all, most Christians value converts to the faith as more likely to be sincere than those who were simply born into it. But it reveals something about the media that they felt compelled to report something they knew or should have known to be false, to defend Obama.
And the media bias in Obama’s favor is most evident in the things said by prominent people in the media:
- “Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope….Barack Hussein Obama did not win because of the color of his skin. Nor did he win in spite of it. He won because at a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than have ever spoken before came together to try to save it. And that was a victory all its own.”
— Time’s Nancy Gibbs, Nov. 17 cover story.
- “In many ways, it was less a speech than a symphony. It moved quickly, it had high tempo, at times inspiring, then it became more intimate, slower, all along sort of interweaving a main theme about America’s promise, echoes of Lincoln, of King, even of Reagan and of Kennedy….It was a masterpiece.”
— CNN’s David Gergen during live coverage following Obama’s convention speech, August 28.
- “There is no getting around it, this man who emerged triumphant from the Iowa caucuses is something unusual in American politics. He has that close-cropped hair and the high-school-smooth face with that deep saxophone of a voice. His borrowings, rhetorical and intellectual, are dizzying. One minute he recalls the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his pacing and aching, staccato repetitions. The next minute he is updating John F. Kennedy with his ‘Ask not what America can do for you’ riff on idealism and hope….Such words mine a vein of American history that leaves more than a few listeners misty-eyed.”
— New York Times reporter Michael Powell in a January 5 news story about Barack Obama campaigning in New Hampshire.
- “You’ve seen those videotapes of Walter Cronkite the night that man landed on the moon for the first time, when Neil Armstrong stepped out and he could just barely get out monosyllables. Politically, that’s what this is. This is man on the moon.”
— MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann during live election night coverage, November 4.
- “When was the last time our nation cheered this much?… ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union’ — that’s what the Constitution says. Last night, all across America, for so many people, that’s how it felt. A more perfect union.”
— Correspondent Byron Pitts on the November 5 CBS Evening News.
- Co-host Robin Roberts: “Some would say it’s a team of rivals, a la President Lincoln, or is a better comparison a team of geniuses as FDR did?”…
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes.”
— ABC’s Good Morning America, Nov. 24.
- Reporter Jeff Glor: “In addition to enjoying basketball and cycling during down time, Obama loves to play Scrabble….Obama’s job as a teenager was at a Baskin-Robbins, and to this day he does not like ice cream….”
Co-host Julie Chen: “Okay, so after doing this story, what’s the takeaway?”
Glor: “I mean, I think this is a man who plays to win. No matter what it is, whether it’s the woman he wants to date or elected office or board games, there is an ambition there. There is a determination.”
Chen: “Sounds like presidential qualities.”
— From “The Five Things You Should Know” about Barack Obama on CBS’s The Early Show, June 18. 
And, of course, there’s Chris Matthews:
- Keith Olbermann: “For 42 minutes, not a sour note and spellbinding throughout in a way usually reserved for the creations of fiction. An extraordinary political statement. Almost a fully realized, tough, crisp, insistent speech in tone and in the sense of cutting through the clutter….I’d love to find something to criticize about it. You got anything?” Co-anchor Chris Matthews: “I have to tell you, you know, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My — I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”
Co-anchor Keith Olbermann: “Steady.”
Matthews: “No, seriously. It’s a dramatic event. He speaks about America in a way that has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the feeling we have about our country. And that is an objective assessment.”
— Exchange during MSNBC’s coverage of the Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. primaries, February 12.
- Chris Matthews: “No. You know, I’ve been criticized for saying he inspires me, and to hell with my critics!…You know, in the Bible they talk about Jesus serving the good wine last, I think the Democrats did the same.”
— MSNBC live coverage of Obama’s Democratic convention speech, August 28.
- MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “You know what? I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work, and I think that-”
Host Joe Scarborough: “Is that your job? You just talked about being a journalist.”
Matthews: “Yeah, it is my job. My job is to help this country….This country needs a successful presidency more than anything right now.”
— MSNBC’s Morning Joe, November 6.
Interestingly, some in the media have acknowledged this bias:
- “When NBC News first assigned me to the Barack Obama campaign, I must confess my knees quaked a bit….I wondered if I was up to the job. I wondered if I could do the campaign justice.”
— NBC reporter Lee Cowan in an article for “The Peacock,” an NBC advertising supplement included in the March 23-29 edition of the American Profile magazine newspaper insert.
- “I think there is a problem, though, with the media gushing over him [Barack Obama] too much. I don’t think he thinks that he’s all that, but the media does. I mean, the coverage after, that I was watching, from MSNBC, I mean these guys were ready to have sex with him.”
— HBO’s Bill Maher on Real Time, August 29, the night after the end of the Democratic convention.
- Host Howard Kurtz: “Are journalists rooting for the Obama story?”
The Politico’s John Harris, referring to the Washington Post: “It wouldn’t surprise me that there’s some of that…. A couple years ago, you would send a reporter out with Obama, and it was like they needed to go through detox when they came back — ‘Oh, he’s so impressive, he’s so charismatic,’ and we’re kind of like, ‘Down, boy.’”
— Exchange on CNN’s Reliable Sources, January 13.
- “If you were going to events during the primaries, what you saw was that the executive editors and the top people at the networks were all rushing to Obama events, bringing their children, celebrating it, saying they were, there’s this part of history….The American people are smart, they can see this. That’s why Obama’s on every magazine cover….There’s no question in my mind the media has been more supportive of Senator Obama.”
— National Public Radio’s Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday, October 26.
- “Even in the conversations we have as colleagues, there is a sense of trying especially hard not to drink the Kool-Aid. It’s so rapturous, everything around him [Barack Obama]. All these huge rallies.”
— Correspondent Lee Cowan, who covers Obama for NBC News, as quoted by New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg in a March 1 story.
This year, it became clear to almost all Americans who voted against Obama, and to most of those who voted for him, that the media have abandoned any pretense of objectivity.
Remarkably, they are doing so even as traditional media are dying in readership and viewership.
Bloggers have a name for the traditional media. They call them “dinosaur media.” They’re not really extinct yet, but they’re getting there.
- The publishers of one of the country’s most distinguished papers, the Christian Science Monitor, announced that they would stop putting out their daily print edition.
- U.S. News & World Report is ending weekly publication of its print edition.
- The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times company declared bankruptcy.
- The Detroit newspapers, the News and Free Press, announced they would be cutting home delivery to three days a week.
- The Newark Star Ledger is cutting its staff nearly in half.
- The New York Times is going to borrow a reported $225 million against its Manhattan headquarters, and the Times’s stock has an S&P rating of “below investment grade.”
- At 507 papers that reported circulation figures this year, the combined circulation fell nearly five percent between September 2007 and September 2008. That was on top of a drop the year before of two-and-a-half percent daily and three-and-a-half percent on Sundays.
- Daily circulation this past year fell five percent or more at 16 of the top 25 papers. Circulation at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, fell nearly 14 percent.
- Some newspapers are seeking bailouts with taxpayers’ money – which will put them in those politicians’ pockets, of course. In Connecticut, the governor and attorney general and a group of legislators are calling for a taxpayers’ bailout of newspaper. In Illinois, it is alleged, state help for the Tribune was made contingent on the firing of certain editorial writers.
And the bailouts don’t extend just to print media: Recently, GE Capital, a subsidiary of NBC’s parent company GE, received a $139 billion government loan guarantee – which some observers immediately branded as “payment for a job well done” in promoting Obama and his friends. (For example, the various NBC-affiliated networks donated an estimated 150 hours of national TV time to Al Gore’s “global warming” campaign.)
NBC, by the way, will be down to two hours a night of traditional programming Monday through Friday next year, with Jay Leno’s show, which is extremely cheap to produce, filling the third hour of primetime. Meanwhile, all the broadcast networks have given up on Saturday night, the former night for such programs as “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” and “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Carol Burnett” and “The Love Boat.” Now, nothing on Saturday night but reruns and ultra-cheap shows like “America’s Most Wanted.”
Meanwhile, entertainment programming, not just news, has become propaganda for various causes.
— Just before the election, the cartoon “The Family Guy” depicted Nazis wearing McCain-Palin buttons.
— The show “Boston Legal” on ABC featured saintly liberals against evil or Alzheimer’s-afflicted conservatives almost every week in its last few seasons, suggesting in one show that, if gap-toothed rednecks can vote, a smart liberal Massachusetts 17-year-old should be able to vote without regard to her age.
— “ER” spent several years promoting a liberal cause-of-the-week: a female soldier sent to Iraq was, of course, raped by her fellow soldiers; a teenager who publicly pledged abstinence was, of course, a hypocrite and a liar; an illegal alien who was accused of harming a “real American,” and who was killed in revenge, was, of course, actually a saint who had worked drudgery to put her kid through college (and was not only innocent, but had tried to rescue the “real American” who was harmed); etc., etc., etc.
The worst examples of entertainment media bias came this year in the area of comedy about current events. They can be tough on people they don’t like. Regarding the apparent arson, with accelerant spread around the exits, of Sarah Palin’s home church, which was occupied at the time, David Letterman joked that the crime was committed by “Joe the Arsonist.”
Ironically, Letterman’s arsonist joke didn’t get much traction, because people in the audience didn’t know about the arson, because the news media had been selling the line that Palin’s rhetoric inspired possible violence against Obama – with people saying “Kill him” at Palin rallies, which never actually happened but was reported nonetheless. So, when actually violence occurred, aimed possibly at Palin, they pretty much ignored it, which meant that the audience wasn’t prepped for the joke. It’s a pattern that we saw this year on rare occasions when current events jokes targeted Obama, Biden, and Company. The audience didn’t get the joke because they weren’t aware of the underlying premise. During the campaign, Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” tried to joke about Obama changing his mind on campaign finance, and the audience reaction was so negative that he exclaimed: “You know, you’re allowed to laugh at him.” Of course, that can be changed.
You would think that there would be a lot to laugh at, in the case of Barack Obama – a guy who went straight from the Illinois statehouse to the White House without ever being vetted, who claimed, as his qualification for an executive position, the executive experience of having gotten himself elected – a Hawaiian who’s not African-American in the usual sense (someone whose ancestors were brought to the Western Hemisphere in furtherance of slavery 200-400 years ago) yet who adopts as his own the fringe politics of Chicago’s African-American community – the most Eurocentric American politician since Woodrow Wilson, spiritual father of the KKK – a pol up to his neck in Chicago’s mobster politics – a pseudo-intellectual who can’t handle tough questioning about his background or beliefs – a believer in “green” pseudoscience who opposes actual steps toward energy independence while promoting policies that will destroy the U.S. auto industry – an agent of economic change who pledges to pursue the bailout-after-bailout economics of the Bush administration – an opponent of the Iraq War who wanted us to invade Pakistan, a nuclear power, instead – a supposedly brilliant writer who, the evidence suggests, hasn’t written anything publishable in his entire life — a former Constitutional Law professor who doesn’t believe in Constitutional Law (he said he wouldn’t appoint anyone to the Supreme Court who believes in the literal words of the Constitution, which raises the question of how he can promise to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution in which he disbelieves) – a friend and ally of kooks like Ayers, Dohrn, Wright, Pfleger, etc. – a president-elect who names the least diverse group of Cabinet members and top-level aides in recent history (unless one counts, as “diversity,” characteristics like skin tone )…
Well, you get the idea.
“Saturday Night Live” mocks Obama for his coolness under pressure. He is made fun of for being nuanced, for having big ears, for being just too darn nice to deal with likes of those devil Republicans, and for his misfortune in having the middle name Hussein (misfortune because it gives conservative bigots something to use against him). One satirist made fun of him for speaking in complete sentences.
It’s like the job interview where you’re asked about your weaknesses and you say, “I’m just too committed to doing my job well.”
(By the way, Obama’s so-called coolness is actually obliviousness, his so-called nuance is actually his inability to come to a conclusion, and his ability to speak in complete sentences seems to disappear when the TelePrompTer is off.)
On “The Late Late Show,” host Craig Ferguson complains, “A dignified African-American man – what the hell can I do with that?” The head writer for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” said that, before his team can make fun of Obama, “You have to wait for all the dust to settle and look for patterns and thinks to joke about.” A longtime writer of political jokes for late-night shows said the problem was that “he’s not buffoonish in any way. He’s not a comical figure.”
Entertainment Weekly reported shortly after the election that the Obama character on SNL “has been the straight man in sketches about other politicians whose traits are easier to ridicule.”
A writer for the Harvard Crimson noted: “All the young voters who flocked to Obama in droves grew up watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. We are accustomed to cutting political satire that reveals the emperor is wearing no clothes. As far back as we can remember, the Presidency was a source of jokes, from those crazy complications with Monica to the time Dick Cheney actually shot that guy. All that is over now. . . . Sure, we may not be laughing at the President of the United States. But neither is anyone else. And maybe that’s a good thing.”
Andrew Sullivan, on “The Chris Matthews Show,” explained that the next four years will be tough for comedians because humor, you see, is based on a person’s flaws. Likewise, a comedian noted in the Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News that “it seems that Mr. Obama has no obvious flaws that would generate any comic traction.” Jimmy Kimmel, whose comedy show follows “Nightline,” declared that the problem is that “he’s so polished, he doesn’t seem to have nay flaws . . . His ears should be the focus of the jokes.” Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” said that the problem is that Obama’s “too perfect.”
“Too perfect.” That’s how the media presented Barack Obama to the American people. Over the next few years, we’ll learn the consequences of electing a president who’s just too good to be true.
[End of 12/26/2008 memo]