My latest book “Spin Masters” discussed the problem of liberal media bias. I wrote that journalistic curiosity tends to wane or even disappear when there’s a Democratic president — that in fact, fans of journalism should have been rooting for Romney to win last year, because at least then reporters would have behaved in an appropriately adversarial fashion.
The Obama era has marked an end to the appropriate and even at times excessive skepticism that characterized the political press corps when George W. Bush was president. The media have since morphed into a credulous and sympathetic lot that consistently assumes the best about Obama’s motives and the Obama administration’s actions.
Well, until today. And I bet you can guess why.
The fact that it took the media eight months to catch on to the meaning of the campaign-season deceptions following the Benghazi attack is one good example of the lack of journalistic curiosity during the 2012 election for anything that made Obama look bad or his presidency look like a failure. The attack itself, and its meaning after Obama’s Cairo speech or his football-spiking over Osama bin Laden’s death, was subordinated to the all-important story about Mitt Romney’s bad press conference.
And just imagine: Could a Republican president have killed a 16-year-old American boy in Yemen with a drone and then gone an entire year — an election year, in fact — without ever being asked about it? The very thought is absurd, but this is the treatment Obama got when one of his drones killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, an American citizen originally from Colorado.
Something obviously changed today. Where a few cracks seemed to be forming last week on Benghazi and the new IRS scandal, the dam suddenly burst at today’s White House press conference. Jay Carney received vigorous pushback from reporters of the sort he isn’t used to. When he used phrases like “if true” to describe the already-admitted IRS targeting of conservative groups, reporters called him out. A furious Hans Nichols of Bloomberg was just one of those who did so, bellowing in reply, “It’s not in the ‘if’ category — it’s fact!”
Carney’s contention that no one in the White House had any knowledge of agency activity was challenged forcefully — how, he was asked, could he simultaneously make such a “categorical” claim and also caution against judgment on the grounds that not all the facts are known? Uh, next question? “This administration has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined….” The relentless barrage continued.
So what had happened? That other scandal, of course — the one involving the Justice Department and the Associated Press.
The AP scandal certainly offends journalists from a personal angle. Over 100 reporters in three different AP offices had their office, home and cell phone records pored over by investigators without their knowledge or permission.
But this violation of journalists’ privacy, while significant, is only the beginning of the problem. This sort of secret government activity also affects their ability to do their jobs. It chills the freedom of the press. How many confidential sources do you think will risk their safe government jobs by talking to you about government incompetence, malfeasance or corruption, if there’s a chance investigators will soon be scanning your personal and professional communications?
The best part of all for a sitting administration is that the public revelation of this seizure actually makes the threat more potent.
It’s really too bad it had to come to this, but thanks to a gross violation (at least in spirit) of the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, we finally got a bit of skepticism about Obama from the mainstream press. We’ll see how long it lasts.