Some things just don't change

New president, same old media storylines: Democrats must bow to Republicans, and Hillary Clinton is power mad!

By Joan Walsh

Published January 26, 2009 4:05AM (EST)

Was it just me, or were other people desperate for a special Saturday screed from Glenn Greenwald or Bob Somerby about the first week's media coverage of President Obama? I can't really fill their shoes, but I'll try. I'm starting to wish we could elect the White House press corps every four years along with the president.

I liked NBC's Chuck Todd's campaign coverage last year. I thought he'd mastered the polling numbers, delegate count and electoral vote projections amazingly well. He usually had something smart to say. Not this week. Todd's badgering Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about Obama's retaking the oath of office after Chief Justice John Roberts bungled it Tuesday was bad enough. But on Friday he asked whether Obama would consider vetoing any stimulus package that didn't get Republican votes, to show he's serious about bipartisanship. Again, I ask, why does bipartisanship always mean Democrats caving in to Republicans? Did anyone in the White House press corps suggest that George W. Bush, who won by a slimmer margin than Obama, ought to veto bills that didn't get Democratic votes in 2001 or 2005? I don't think so.

Almost as ridiculous was a Friday segment of CNN's Situation Room, headlined "Hillary Clinton's Power Grab." Media Matters breaks it down here: The entire segment was framed around Clinton saying she would fight for the share of the budget that diplomacy deserves. That might be a power grab – if President Obama as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't support the same thing. This is the kind of Clinton Derangement Syndrome-infected reporting that made me defend her during the primaries last year. I warned that it would afflict Obama if he won the election; I'm not happy to be right about that. And despite debunking by Media Matters and the Huffington Post, on Saturday CNN's Ed Henry repeated false claims that the Congressional Budget Office found the Democrats' stimulus plan wouldn't provide much help to the economy.

Finally, the incomparable Maureen Dowd found a way to blame the failure of Caroline Kennedy's bungled, short-lived Senate bid on, you guessed it, Hillary Clinton. No surprise there, but I got caught up in the whole hope-and-change thing, and I was hoping even Dowd might change.

I'm still optimistic Obama can defeat Republican obstructionism and media knuckle-headedness. (I loved his telling Republicans on Friday "I won," and warning them to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh if they want to be part of the future of this country. I so underestimated Obama, I really did.) But I worry about the media's profound need to find conflict and scandal where there is none. I especially worry there will be a backlash against Obama because there was so much pro-Obama coverage last year, that reporters and pundits who gave him more favorable coverage than Clinton or McCain will "self-correct" now. Digby writes about it well here.

It's OK, we'll move ahead without them. I am sick today and am doing nothing but watching television, and I watched a rerun of the "We Are One" concert, which was almost as good from my couch as it was in person. I couldn't see Pete Seeger from where I was standing last Sunday; I felt a wave of joy again. I also loved CNN's "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News." Hughley on former Vice President Dick Cheney in a wheel chair: "I firmly believe he wouldn't stand up for this man," and on the boos for Bush and Cheney, "I feel like I'm at the Apollo." Here's hoping Wolf Blitzer occasionally calls on Hughley to cover the Obama White House.


Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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