The Corner

The one and only.

Media Matters for Obama


Like pretty much everyone in Washington, I don’t take Media Matters for America very seriously. But, I sometimes find it funny how seriously it takes itself. A good example is Eric Boehlert’s hysterical fit about my recent USA Today column on Obama’s press coverage (which I will admit has gotten somewhat more pointed since the column came out).

I think the feverishness of his diatribe speaks for itself. But I do think it’s worth pointing to a couple of his substantive complaints, which I think mostly stem from his inability to use Nexis or Google.

Boehlert writes:

Let’s start with the column’s first sentence: “Barack Obama and his supporters have been relentlessly comparing the new president to Franklin Roosevelt.”

The new president has been “relentlessly” comparing himself to FDR? Note that Goldberg offered no evidence in his column — no quotes, no nothing — to back up that claim. I searched through Nexis and Google and couldn’t find examples of Obama comparing himself to FDR.

Sigh. Obama’s rhetoric has been relentless in its allusions to Roosevelt and the New Deal in ways that make the comparison obvious. Hundreds of reporters, columnists and bloggers have caught this. He has invoked FDR and/or FDR’s New Deal countless times to support his policies and his philosophy of governance. But if Eric Boehlert is insufficiently historically literate to hear it, that’s his failing, not mine.

But sometimes Obama has been so transparent even Eric should be able to catch it, certainly with the help of Google and Nexis. Here’s just one example that comes immediately to mind. In his November  “60 Minutes” interview, Obama was asked by Steve Kroft:

 Kroft: Have you been reading anything about the Depression? Anything about FDR?

Mr. Obama: You know, I have actually. There’s a new book out about FDR’s first 100 days and what you see in FDR that I hope my team can– emulate, is not always getting it right, but projecting a sense of confidence, and a willingness to try things. And experiment in order to get people working again.

And I think that’s what the American people expect. You know, they’re not expecting miracles. I think if you talk to the average person right now that they would say, ‘Well, look, you know well, we’re having a tough time right now. We’ve had tough times before.’ ‘And you know, we don’t expect a new president can snap his fingers and suddenly everything is gonna be okay. But what we do expect is that the guy is gonna be straight with us. We do expect that he’s gonna be working really hard for us.’

As for Obama’s supporters, including the press, it’s worth noting that Boehlert doesn’t dispute this. What he doesn’t grasp is that these sorts of comparisons are usually fueled by the administration itself. Obama knows what he’s doing and plenty of journalists have taken exactly the cues Obama wants them to. If you search Nexis for articles with Obama and FDR or Roosevelt in the same paragraph, the search engine sputters telling you that over 3,000 articles  in the last 6 months. I sincerely doubt Boehlert waded through even a small fraction of them before he declared there was no evidence to support my point.  Here are some random snippets I found in less than ten minutes of looking:

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch January 18:

Obama’s advisers and outside observers say it is clear that fixing the economy and creating jobs will dominate his agenda in the early days, just as it did Roosevelt’s.

December 20, New York Times:

As winds howl through the empty rooms of failed financial institutions and foreclosed homes, as unemployment statistics spike and stocks plunge, as an era of high hopes stutters with fear, and seeming shelters shake on fraudulent foundations, who would not hope that new leadership might stave off further catastrophe?

And a new leader, coming to power with his ”brain trust” of advisers and his ”new deal” for the nation, has but a short time to make his case before inertia and fear become dominant once again.

Does the analogy need to be spelled out? In his campaign, as the financial world was convulsing a few months ago, Barack Obama invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and cited his most famous line from the First Inaugural — ”the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” — words delivered in 1933 during the worst days of the Depression. Four thousand banks had collapsed in two months, and one of every four workers was unemployed. Nearly half the country’s $20 billion in home mortgages were in default.

Since Mr. Obama’s election, references to Roosevelt have become even more plentiful. Caricatures of the president-elect with a cigarette holder and an insouciant Roosevelt grin have appeared in major publications. Mr. Obama has implicitly invoked Roosevelt’s approach to what was the worst financial crisis of the 20th century, saying he would enact the largest public-works program since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s. And he has made clear (conceptually echoing Roosevelt) that his attention to the welfare of the citizenry would be inseparable from his attention to the health of the economy.


The Boston Globe:

WASHINGTON – As Barack Obama prepares for his inauguration, the echoes of one of his greatest inspirations – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s handling of the Great Depression – resound everywhere.

Obama’s call for Congress to “act boldly and act now” on his economic agenda bears a striking resemblance to Roosevelt’s inaugural call for “action and action now.” Obama’s plea for a massive government spending program is based on his belief that Roosevelt’s New Deal helped lift the country out of the 1930s depression. Obama’s emphasis on federally funded “green” jobs is reminiscent of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Even the iconic “Hope” poster of Obama seems like an updated version of the artwork produced by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

But while Obama is taking significant cues from Roosevelt, the effort comes amid a roiling debate among historians about whether the New Deal deserves its reputation as one of the great American success stories.

CNN November 18:

With the economy being compared to the Great Depression, no surprise Barack Obama is being compared to FDR. And no surprise the 32nd president is on the top of the president-elect’s reading list.

Obama’s transition team says he’s reading not one but two books on Roosevelt: Jonathan Alter’s “The Defining Moment” and Jean Edward Smith’s “FDR.” Obama told “60 Minutes” he’s looking back for guidance.

As for Boehlert’s specific complaints about the examples I gave, there are numerous rebuttals and responses that come to mind, many of the “lighten up, Francis” variety.

For instance, he doesn’t like my use of Chris Matthews, the guy who hosts so much of MSNBC’s political coverage, including the inauguration, because — as I say in the piece — Matthews is nobody’s idea of an objective reporter. Right. My point exactly. Which is why he shouldn’t be used like one whenever MSNBC feels like it.

The bulk of his remaining complaints boil down to hair-splitting and predictable gripes stemming from the fact that he thinks the press has been too hard on Obama already. Stop laughing. He cites as proof the press has been hard on Obama, inside the beltway “chatter” about how the press has been hard on Obama. Obviously, we should take the press corps own back-patting as proof of the yeoman work they’ve been doing.

But then he pretty much says I must be lying because his own thumbless grasp of Nexis failed to yield a quote by CNN’s John King I used in my op-ed.

He writes:

Mercifully, Goldberg soon brought his hollow exercise to a close and ended with this beaut:
CNN’s John King recently said “nobody disputes” that journalists are too enraptured by Obama’s historic presidency; he seems to think it will wear off when the serious work of the nation kicks in.
Finally some meat on the bone, right? Slight problem: Goldberg only directly quoted two words from the CNN reporter (“nobody disputes”) before using his own words to describe what King supposedly said. Considering the fact that Goldberg had just made up the claim about Obama having “walked into” a window, I’d want to double-check the King quote.

So I searched Nexis and Google and TVEyes. But I couldn’t find anything even remotely close to matching what Goldberg claimed King had said about the press being enraptured by Obama. I even searched through the NewsBusters archives, where every imagined liberal media bias slight is documented by Bozell’s army of overeager scorekeepers. But nothing about King claiming “nobody disputes” that journalists are too enraptured by Obama. And trust me, if King had said that, the people at NewsBusters would have posted it, sent out email alerts, and called their congressional representatives. It would have been a huge deal.
But even NewsBusters couldn’t find King’s “nobody disputes” quote. Only Goldberg had caught it. Who knows, maybe King said it “on the inside.”

Well, I went re-fetched the whole quote from Nexis in about a minute by searching for “John King” and “Nobody disputes.” Really heavy lifting.

Here’s the quote:

KING: Well, many people, especially on the right, have criticized our business, saying we’ve been too easy on Barack Obama, too soft on Barack Obama, too much caught up in the significant history. No one disputes that, but maybe not taking enough time to deal with his answers to the specific challenge.