February 19 2013
Note to (Human) Puppets: Don't Blame the Puppet Master
President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.
Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated. Instead, the mastery mostly flows from a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access.
This is deeply pathetic. Indeed, it is the most pathetic justification of journalistic malfeasance since Joan Juliet Buck tried to explain away the suck-up piece she wrote on Syria’s debonair dictator and his stylish first lady (the “rose of the desert”) on the eve of the Syrian revolt that has claimed 70,000 lives. Ms. Buck said that the Assads were nice to her and tricked her into liking them. Others might interpret this in a different light: the Assads made a fool of somebody who was only too willing to be had.
All White Houses try to get the best coverage they can. The Obama White House is particularly manipulative. But, baby, it takes two to tango. When Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” was invited to witness and record a PDA between the president and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he had a choice: he could have asked hard questions. But instead Kroft demonstrated that the chi chi softball game in the Hamptons isn’t the only place he tosses softballs.
Politico’s Jim VanDehei and Mike Allen continue:
The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.
Yes, the results are transformational—we had a press that did a historically bad job of covering the 2012 presidential campaign. But they are not blameless. It’s not because of “fewer resources” at media companies that “the balance of power” has shifted to government. It is because media people no longer ask hard questions. They refuse to report certain stories—Benghazi spring to mind—that might present a less flattering portrait of the White House.
If they are dupes, they are willing dupes. The Politico piece is headlined “Obama, the Puppet Master.” But puppets are stuff and stuffing. The media is willing human beings who have lost interest in reporting.
I am certain that many conservatives, eager for any tidbit of good news, will regard the Politico piece as a turning point. I don’t see it as such. I see it as a sad attempt to shift the blame for an offense the media will continue to commit. Once upon a time in Washington, it was a badge of honor to be disliked, or at the very least feared or respected, by the White House.
Willing puppets they are and as such they will continue to be.