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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obam-ade: strong enough to strip that last, stubborn layer of perspective


Media let their pom-poms obscure their objectivity

Warning: If you do not wish to be roused from any pro-bama reverie on which you may currently be levitating, then read no further.

It began shortly after the election, when I caught a promo on CNN that could have easily been produced by the Obama campaign itself, as a momentum ad for the final days of the campaign. But it was instead celebrating CNN’s coverage of the election that had ended, with stills of awed, glassy-eyed rally goers accompanied by soaring music.

At CNN’s T-shirt store, you can buy a shirt that reads: ‘Obama inspires historic victory.’ But, I seem to have spoken too soon: they also have a Bush T-Shirt. What’s on it? ‘The Google’ among top ‘Bushisms’

Then of course there are the commemorative books, from the same media outlets that are supposed to be telling Americans and the world the truth about Obama’s administration for the next four years.

At the New York Timesonline store, “Barack Obama” is the first category listed. There, you can purchase “OBAMA: The Historic Journey” or photo prints of Obama climbing the stairs of a plane or removing his suit jacket at a rainy rally (rear view!), starting at $199 for an 11 x 14 and topping out at $1,129 for a 20 x 24 signed and framed (signed by whom? The photographer, I would assume. Or, in light of recent events, maybe the pilot who flew Obama’s plane).

The erstwhile venerable Time magazine is selling framed copies of its inauguration edition cover for $94.95.

USA Today has been running quarter-page ads touting their “Welcome President Obama feature” that will include a special classified section of messages to the new administration, at a special ad rate of $15 per line. They have even helpfully provided a sample ad:

Dear President Obama, Congratulations and welcome to the Presidency. We trust in you to restore hope and America’s values, thereby ensuring a better future for our children. The Latassas – Cape Coral, FL

So it's just some financially-strained old media outlets trying to make a buck off giving the public what it wants, you say? Where's the harm? The harm is in abandoning the last vestiges of professionalism and objectivity they had, that still distinguished them from new media outlets.

But it goes beyond the profiteering of selling a few T-shirts and coffee table books. The days leading up to the inaugural have been characterized by media coverage that has been even more credulous than the coverage of Obama during the primaries and general election, which I hardly thought possible.

How else does one explain the swallowing – hook, line and sinker – of the dubious rationale that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be at the back of the shop on Inauguration Day because he is the “designated successor” should something happen to Obama – and not because he is a Bush holdover who symbolizes the successful surge in Iraq that Obama opposed and said wouldn’t work.

Common sense would dictate that Vice President Joe Biden should be quarantined in an undisclosed location for the inaugural. (Actually, Joe Biden should be quarantined 24/7, but alas it is too late for that.)

Perhaps this mass self-hypnosis also explains why the media was scooped by "Entertainment Tonight" – a thinly disguised nightly infomercial for Paramount products —on Obama’s top secret dinner with Oprah Winfrey Sunday night.

On Monday night, I found myself, for the first time in memory, grateful for the snide anti-Americanism of the CBC’s Neil Macdonald, who observed that:

“No other country congratulates itself so effusively for transferring power peacefully. And the man who’s set to accept that power tomorrow has now moved beyond celebrity. This is saturation level fame. Barack Obama has become some sort of talisman for a worried, troubled nation.”

It almost made me take back my opinion that the CBC should have kept Patrick Brown, and fired Macdonald. Almost.

And I was especially grateful for the wise perspective of Rush Limbaugh on Monday afternoon (Limbaugh was not among the conservative journalists and commentators invited for the off-the-record evening with Obama at George Will’s house). Among other points, Limbaugh noted that not only did Clarence Thomas not enjoy any slack, much less celebration, when he became just the second black appointed to the Supreme Court: the Democrats and a good chunk of the mainstream media set out to destroy him.

I don’t think we have seen this kind of media overkill about an individual since the life and death of Princess Diana. Offensive as the coverage was at times, it was ultimately of limited harm, because Diana was not the leader of the free world with all the power and accountability that brings. There was little to fear in the media losing its head over her. What a pleasant surprise it was to see this perspective echoed by BBC reporter Katty Kay:

Why am I coming over all queasy this week? Oh, yes, it must be coronation—sorry, inauguration—week in the federation of the United States. So this is why you booted us out a couple of centuries ago. You simply replaced the pomp and ceremony of hereditary monarchy and with the pomp and ceremony of elected monarchy. OK, you didn't opt for the dynastic duo of Bush and Clinton, which really had us scratching our crowned European heads, but the fanfare with which Caroline Kennedy has entered the political picture suggests your infatuation with royal families is still not over.

In Britain, we invest the Queen with our ceremonial hopes which leaves us free to treat our prime minister as exactly what he is—an elected official, paid for by the taxpayers, and serving at the people's will. While George W. Bush was being asked patsy questions by a subdued White House press corps, Tony Blair was being drubbed by un-cowed political hacks. It is far easier to do when you don't stand the moment the man walks into the room.

Barack Obama has a four-year rental on the White House. We would do well to remember he doesn't possess the freehold.

America got rid of King George for good reason and it toyed recently with another dynastic George. Wasn't that enough? January 20 is indeed a day for celebration, as the world watches the peaceful transfer of power in Washington. I simply wish we could tone down the royal trappings just a smidge. Who really needs another coffee mug anyway?

The justification for all this hysteria, of course, is that Obama is America’s first black president. Yes, he is. But he is still the president. A president who wants to escalate America’s (and Canada's) military commitment in Afghanistan. A president who figuratively threw his grandmother and 20-year pastor under a bus when it became politically expedient to do so. A president whom people believe will be a unifier, but has chosen the most avidly partisan Democrat as his chief of staff, and appointed a handful of Clinton retreads to his cabinet. A president with a number two who has hair plugs and bleached teeth. (Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Yes, it’s historic. But history, and the election, is about yesterday. The media is supposed to pay attention to what is happening now and its implications for the future. The media’s continual references to Martin Luther King Jr. usually leave out King’s best-known hope (has “hope” been copyrighted by Obama yet?): that he looked forward to the day when people would be judged not on the colour of their skin, but on the content of their character.

We have become so infantilized as citizens that the declaration “I’m scared” is routinely offered by educated people as thoughtful political opinion (and most frequently offered about conservative politicians such as George W. Bush and Stephen Harper). I refuse to sink to that level of childishness and non-cognition. But the media’s complete abandonment of the perspective, responsibility and detachment that is integral to their jobs has unnerved me more than a little.

1 Comments:

Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

Come on now - the New York Times has to turn a profit at something these days. :-)

For a candidate whose mandate was not that impressive in historic terms, the fawning over Obama is really something to behold. Unlike Princess Diana, though, he is still alive, so inevitably he will disappoint. I expect that his honeymoon will last a fair while - he makes a heck of a speech, and the "blame Bush" card has plenty of mileage left on it. Eventually, though, he will face his first crisis, at which time his Presidency will be defined. (Bush 43's first term was defined by his successful response to September 11, and his second term came quickly unglued after his unsuccessful response to Hurricane Katrina.)

To the extent that Obama appeared to be moving to the centre during the transition, and thus disappointing liberal Democrats, I would say he was off to a promising start. The true test, however, will come in his ability to wrestle with Congressional Democrats. If they succeed in bullying him or taking him hostage, he will become Jimmy Carter. If he uses his honeymoon period to stare them down and defeat them on something sweeping and symbolic, he could become Reagan. Given what a blank slate his career to date has been, it is impossible to predict how it will go...

2:47 PM  

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