obamajuly

"I've been scratching my head over this for the past year: Does President Obama get credit for the things he does right?" media writer Howard Kurtz wrote for the Washington Post on Friday.

"We all know about the things he does wrong, because the media have made that the dominant narrative to explain his sinking poll numbers. (What president, by the way, wouldn't have lousy poll numbers with a rotten economy and a godawful oil spill?)

"Obama's stop-and-go difficulties with the Hill, his slow public reaction after the BP disaster, his failure to forge coalitions with the Republicans or change Washington's nasty tone, his inability to bring down the jobless rate — all are well known and well documented.

"But with Thursday's Senate vote to approve sweeping new regulation of the banking industry, the president has now delivered on his promise to clean up the Wall Street practices that nearly imploded the economy.

"How much credit will the media give him? Will this be portrayed as a watershed event? Or will it be over by the weekend, with press attention drifting back to the oil well and the midterms?"

Kurtz isn't the only journalist asking. While on vacation, Eugene Kane, columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote Friday on his Facebook page, "In his short time as President, Obama has led major overhaul of both health insurance and [the] financial industry to better aid American citizens. OK, Rush and Glenn; tell us again how he's the worst president in recent history."

In the New York Daily News on Thursday, columnist Errol Louis told readers, "If 'Change We Can Believe In' was the winning slogan during Barack Obama's campaign for the White House, 'Change Hiding in Plain Sight' might be the theme of the Obama presidency.

"In one domestic policy area after another — at a pace that often eludes a press corps addicted to polls and sound bites — Obama's aides are reorganizing federal programs and priorities in ways that won't be fully perceived for years.

"This week, for instance, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan gave a morning speech describing an ambitious plan to revitalize public housing nationwide with billions in public and private dollars."

Even Politico, the object of a recent joke by Obama that its news is always cast in terms of political winners and losers, had praise. "President Obama is 'clearly succeeding' at implementing his policy agenda, despite rising public skepticism about the president," it wrote on Thursday.

Editors "John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write: 'The imminent passage of financial reform, just a couple months after the passage of comprehensive health care, should decisively end the narrative that President Obama represents a Jimmy Carter-style case of naïve hope crushed by the inability to master Washington. ...

" 'You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But especially after Thursday’s vote you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done. To the contrary, he has, as promised, covered the uninsured, tightened regulations, started to wind down the war in Iraq and shifted focus and resources to Afghanistan, injected more competition into the education system and edged closer to a big energy bill.' "

So what's keeping the poll numbers down and the news media stingy with the credit?

The Pew Research Center’s latest News IQ Quiz indicated misinformation could be a factor. "Only about a third of Americans (34%) know that the government’s bailout of banks and financial institutions was enacted under the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly say that the Troubled Asset Relief Program – widely known as TARP – was signed into law by President Obama," the center reported on Thursday.

Others say it's still "the economy, stupid." "For most people not clued into politics, there’s only one issue: the economy," Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, told Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor. “Basically, people are judging Obama by the shape of the economy, which is still very bad.”

Greg Marx wrote Friday in the Columbia Journalism Review, "In short — every news article that seeks to explain some apparent mystery about the president’s political standing should begin by looking at the economy. It’s not that other things don’t affect how the president’s doing, or aren’t interesting or important on their own terms — they do, and they are. But the role of the economy is not secondary to 'the likability factor' in determining how the president’s faring. And it’s not co-equal, either. It’s the most important thing, and journalism that doesn’t make that clear is doing a disservice to its readers."

Does President Obama believe the American media are "fundamentally unserious?"Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter says so in his new book, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One." Alter writes this about the aftermath of Obama's trip to Asia in November: "The trip reinforced his view that the American media was fundamentally unserious. He bowed too deeply to the figurehead emperor of Japan. So what?

"The United States had big challenges ahead in staying competitive, and much of the media, he thought, was clueless about what was truly important. For instance, he noted that President Lee Myong Bak of South Korea, presiding over a 'very competitive' economy, had said that his biggest problem in education was that Korean parents were too demanding and were insisting on importing English teachers so their kids could learn English in first grade instead of having to wait for second grade. This is what complacent America was up against.

"'And then I sit down with U.S. reporters, and the question they have for me, in Asia, is, 'Have I read Sarah Palin's book?' At this point, the president shook his head, incredulous. 'True. True story."

Roger Ailes, left, and Rupert Murdoch (Credit: Nigel Parry)Media mogul Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., whose properties include the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel, was ready to make peace with Barack Obama after Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But Roger Ailes, president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, put a monkey wrench in that idea, according to Jonathan Alter's book, "The Promise: President Obama, Year One."

"After he wrapped up the nomination in June 2008, Obama visited the News Corporation offices in New York with the intention of making peace," Alter wrote. "He chatted amiably with owner Rupert Murdoch, who openly admired Obama, but the conversation turned tense after Roger Ailes joined the group. Obama explained that he hadn't been granting interviews to Fox because the network was buying into bogus stories, like the one about his being schooled in a fundamentalist Muslim madrassa in Indonesia. Ailes responded huffily that Fox was just reporting the news.

"Murdoch, who was visibly embarrassed by Ailes's ungraciousness, extravagantly complimented the candidate, and the meeting ended with an informal agreement by Obama to resume relations with Fox. He granted a long interview to Bill O'Reilly, as well as one to the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. But when Murdoch passed the word inside News Corp. that he was planning to endorse Obama, Ailes threatened to quit. Murdoch, knowing that Ailes was a cash cow for his company, gave Ailes a five-year contract, endorsed [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.] early, and let Ailes move News Corp. even further right. Obama placed a courtesy call to Murdoch during the transition but wrote Fox off."

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.