Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

By Fineman, Howard | Newsweek, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do


Fineman, Howard, Newsweek


Byline: Howard Fineman

The press finally falls out of love with Obama.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, was 50 minutes late for his briefing, apparently a record for tardiness, but few reporters in the White House press room bothered to feign outrage; they didn't seem all that eager to ask him questions anyway. When his boss flew to Missouri to give another of his "high octane" (The New York Times), "impassioned" (The Washington Post) health-care speeches, no cable channel covered the event. If you are president, the only thing worse than criticism is not being covered. And the truth is, we in the press are bored with Barack.

The "mainstream media" are losing patience with, and even interest in, their erstwhile hero. President Barack Obama never had a chance with the Ailes-Murdoch crowd, of course, and it didn't take the president long to offend the fierce left wing of the blogosphere. But now, finally, the MSM, which views itself as ideologically neutral, has found ideologically neutral reasons to lose patience with him: that he may be ineffectual; that he doesn't know how to play the game; that he can't get anything done. Exhibit A: the health-care bill. The Times's Frank Rich, the astute dean of the commentariat, wrote recently that Obama has failed to "communicate a compelling narrative" in office and, as a result, "could be toast if he doesn't make good on a year's worth of false starts."

And yet this collective falling out of love is great news for Obama. Calling it quits with the MSM is just what he needs. A breakup might even save his presidency.

For one thing, almost no one likes or trusts the media. The latest Gallup survey of respected institutions puts us down with the worst of the riffraff: banks, labor unions, HMOs, and Congress. If we attack you, it only proves you must have some redeeming qualities. That jujitsu even worked in an odd and unexpected way for Bill Clinton. At the height of the Monica Lewinsky crisis in 1998, polls showed voters were not only appalled by Clinton's behavior, they were appalled by the media's obsession with it.

Obama needs to stop caring what we all write and say, a process he can start by abandoning the comfortable but incapacitating illusion that reporters are his friends. He can't and shouldn't rely on us to translate for him. We'll get it wrong. …

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