Fading Love Affair: How the Media Will Maul Obama

Journalists Can't Stay 'in the Tank' for New POTUS Without Eventually Coming Up for Air, Can They?

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In recent weeks I happened to read three different articles that all invoked the late Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross's famous five-stage "Grief Cycle" in regard to the economic crisis. You know the drill: Humans tend to react to loss with denial, followed by anger, followed by bargaining, followed by depression, followed by acceptance.

Hail to the Chief: Enjoy it while it lasts, Mr. President.
Hail to the Chief: Enjoy it while it lasts, Mr. President. Credit: Jim Watson
Given last week's media-fueled Obama mania, I've been thinking about the stages of, well, media euphoria. Generally there are only two such stages: on and off. It's been conventional wisdom for at least a year now that the media is "in the tank for Obama" (in fact, start typing "in the tank" into Google's home-page search box, and it will automatically complete the phrase with "for Obama" -- and point you to endless stories about the media's love affair with O). But all political infatuations must come to an end -- and already you can begin to see the media straining mightily to assert its "objectivity" regarding our new POTUS. For instance, the Los Angeles Times editorial board got big notice on Jim Romenesko's media blog last week when it rather hilariously declared, "We pledge to watch Obama, to hold him to his work, and to report back." (As one commenter wrote at latimes.com, "Why the sudden commitment to 'journalism'? During the campaign, the LAT was all but running advertorials for Obama.")

Of course, for journos struggling to shake off their schoolgirl crushes, it sort of sucks that No. 44 so far continues to appear deeply competent and eerily disciplined. He just won't cooperate with the media's need for a narrative shift! But no matter. The media always finds a way. For starters:

Just say Trouble -- with a capital T Even minor wrinkles can be construed as "trouble." And everybody knows that anybody experiencing "trouble" is "troubled." Consider, for instance, this pre-inaugural early-bird special from The New York Times: "Signs of Trouble Emerge in Transition's Last Days." That headline appeared over a piece by Peter Baker and Helene Cooper that began, "The smooth ride to the inauguration has turned bumpier in its final days for President-elect Barack Obama as he struggles to complete his cabinet, push problematic nominations through the Senate and balance competing demands in his economic package." Oh, dear! With all that problematic bumpiness troubling Obama's troubled transition team, it's a wonder he didn't dissolve into a quivering puddle of tears!

The rule of twos Two bits of trouble in a row -- preferably within the same news cycle? That automatically translates to "under siege," as in: "The Obama administration is under siege tonight, with new revelations of X coming on the heels of Y ..."

Eloquent, schmeloquent! "More novel than short story, more ballad than poem ... it did what literature does best." Who said that about what? The Los Angeles Times (ha ha!), about Obama's inaugural address. With that kind of over-the-top gushery still on tap, we can expect this neat reversal any minute now: Some clever blogger -- probably a Nick Denton employee -- will deconstruct a YouTube video of an uncharacteristically stuttery or at-a-loss-for-words Obama (perhaps at a news conference) and point out that he's not really that eloquent! (In December, Gawker actually took a yellow highlighter to the transcript of Caroline Kennedy's first in-depth New York Times interview, to show that "Yesterday, we learned Caroline Kennedy is able to say 'you know' 12 times in under a minute" -- and the Caroline-is-an-Upper-East-Side-Valley-girl meme was born.) Or better yet, said blogger will stitch together a montage of some heretofore un-obsessed-about Obama verbal tic, and thereby demonstrate decisively that the most celebrated political orator of our time is ... a fraud!

He's just too reasonable! Credit Maureen Dowd for advancing the notion that Obama's post-partisan approach and tendency to see nuance where George Bush saw black and white will spell ... trouble! "Some worry that a President Obama will overdo it," she wrote last week, "and turn the Situation Room into the Seminar Room." Yes, yes -- worried sick!

Oh, God! "I can't say anything that hasn't already been said," Oprah Winfrey told the Chicago Sun-Times during last week's inaugural festivities. "It's beyond. It's sacred." Oprah's not the only one who's unable to avoid quasi-messianic rhetoric in regard to Obama -- which, come to think of it, she helped kick off all the way back in December 2007, when she anointed Obama "the one." (Remember? "I am here to tell you, Iowa, he is the one. He is the one!") Conservative commentators sure had fun with all that "the one" stuff during the election. Now they can up the ante by roasting atheist-pagan journalists for so willfully overlooking this most obvious breach of the separation of church and state. Oh, my God, we elected ... a god!

Fox News, your serve.


Coming soon to MediaWorks online: the second and third installments of Dumenco's Media People, a new interview series with media grandees. Next up: influential Silicon Valley blogger Kara Swisher, who founded AllThingsD.com with her Wall Street Journal colleague Walt Mossberg. And on the eve of the debut of "The CollegeHumor Show" on MTV, Ricky Van Veen, co-founder and editor in chief of CollegeHumor.com. To make sure you don't miss any online-exclusive MediaWorks content, sign up for the free MediaWorks e-newsletter.

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