Why Media Aren't Giving Obama Credit
Thursday, July 15, 2010
"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 na?Øve 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 ‚Ç¨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."
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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Maxine Lucero wears an "I Could Be Illegal" T-shirt at a Salt Lake City news conference Thursday, called to respond to the distribution of a list of 1,300 names of people said to be in the country illegally. (Credit: Steve Griffin/Salt Lake Tribune)
Utah news organizations have declined to publish a list of 1,300 supposedly illegal immigrants in the state, a list "distributed to news media and law enforcement agencies by an anonymous group calling for deportation of people it included.
"The list contained names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, names of children and even the due dates of several pregnant women. It contained names from all over the state," as the Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported on Friday.
The state has identified and placed on leave two employees from the Department of Workforce Services who accessed state data to compile the list, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said at a news conference on Friday.
‚ÄúMy first impulse was to throw it away, actually,‚Äù Joseph A. Cannon, editor of the Deseret News, said of the list in Wednesday's editions of the New York Times, adding: ‚ÄúIt seemed like some sort of weird hoax. Who would do this?'
"The Deseret News, like other news organizations in Utah, did not reveal the list. 'I would be pretty shocked, even in this state, if somebody did that,' said Michael Anastasi, a managing editor at The Salt Lake Tribune," Jeremy W. Peters and Brian Stelter continued in the Times.
"Many news media outlets said they doubted the veracity of the list and realized that the information on it was most likely obtained through surreptitious and possibly illegal means.
". . . In addition to refusing to publish the information, news outlets took other steps to conceal the identities of those on the list.
"When local television stations have shown copies of the list in news reports, they have blurred the image or used extreme close-ups that do not convey any personal details."
The Deseret News' Lisa Riley Roche and Lee Davidson reported that "Within hours of the first stories about 'the list,' Hispanic leaders called for Herbert to investigate whether it came from state sources ‚Äî and he did so quickly.
"Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minutemen Project, issued a press release on Friday defending workers who released data, saying they are patriots and whistle-blowers who deserve praise and not criminal charges.
"Some other Utahns also participated in a Friday conference call to national media to deliver a message that 'the list' does not represent most Utahns."
"The federal investigation into what occurred in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina entered a new phase today with civil rights charges against Roland J. Bourgeois Jr., a white man who prosecutors said opened fire on a trio of African-American males," reporter A.C. Thompson wrote Thursday for ProPublica.
"Earlier this year, I identified Bourgeois as a participant in the incident, quoting an eyewitness I uncovered as saying she saw Bourgeois wave a bloody cap and boast that he had just shot a 'looter.' That evidence was featured in a story produced by ProPublica, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and PBS 'FRONTLINE.'
"Until now, the U.S. Justice Department examination of post-Katrina violence has focused on the police with 16 current and former New Orleans Police Department officers charged with an array of crimes ‚Äî including the shooting deaths of three civilians.
"Today's five-count indictment alleges that Bourgeois, who is white, attempted to kill Chris Collins, Marcel Alexander and Donnell Herrington, firing a shotgun at the young men as they walked through the streets of Algiers Point, a largely white New Orleans neighborhood perched on the west bank of the Mississippi. The shooting occurred on Sept. 1, 2005, according to the indictment. Bourgeois, who could not be reached for comment tonight, was also accused of lying to investigators and attempting to coerce a witness. . . .
"I've been reporting on the post-Katrina chaos for about three years now. Early on, I focused on two subjects that hadn't been fully explored: the questionable use of force by police officers and the behavior of a group of white men in Algiers Point who formed their own militia.
"The stories unfolded in parallel and had some similarities. In both, I tracked down people who claimed to have suffered serious violence from groups of armed men. One narrative centered on alleged misconduct by people acting in their official capacity as law enforcers, the other was about violence perpetrated by private citizens."
In the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Friday, columnist Jarvis DeBerry wrote, "On Sept. 26, 2005, The Times-Picayune published a report by Gordon Russell and former reporter Brian Thevenot that disputed the prevailing idea that New Orleanians at the Superdome and Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina preyed on one another with impunity.
"The headline read 'Rape. Murder. Gunfights. ... much of the violence NEVER HAPPENED,' but in my mind, I always applied my own, more defiant headline: "We are not animals!"
- A.C. Thompson, ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy, New Orleans Times-Picayune: Charges Filed in Post-Katrina Shooting
Protesters air issues with John Yoo, co-author of Bush administration "torture memos."
As a cost-saving measure, the Philadelphia Inquirer is ending its op-ed contracts with John Yoo, the Bush administration torture-memo figure; former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.; columnist George E. Curry; and others, Editorial Page Editor Harold Jackson told Journal-isms on Friday.
"But Inquirer readers should expect to continue seeing their bylines occasionally as freelancers," Jackson said. One difference: "We won't be running them as often nor paying the same fees."
Yoo's columns drew protests when they began last year. In the Inquirer's sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, Will Bunch wrote in May 2009: "By late last year, the world already knew a great deal about John Yoo, the Philadelphia native and conservative legal scholar whose tenure in the Bush administration as a top Justice Department lawyer lies at the root of the period of greatest peril to the U.S. Constitution in modern memory.
"It was widely known in 2008, for example, that Yoo had argued for presidential powers far beyond anything either real or implied in the Constitution ‚Äî that the commander-in-chief could trample the powers of Congress or a free press in an endless undeclared war, or that the 4th Amendment barring unreasonable search and seizure didn't apply in fighting what Yoo called domestic terrorism.
"Most famously, Yoo was known as the author of the infamous 'torture memos' that in 2002 and 2003 gave the Bush and Cheney the legal cover to violate the human rights of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, based on the now mostly ridiculed claim that international and U.S. laws against such torture practices did not apply. Working closely with Dick Cheney, Cheney's staff and others, Yoo set into motion the brutal actions that left a deep, indelible stain on the American soul."
The memos continue to make news. In testimony released Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee, Jay S. Bybee, the former Justice Department official who with Yoo co-wrote the memos, testified that the department did not sanction some of the harsh methods the CIA used against detainees, including the repeated waterboarding of two suspected terrorists, Ken Dilanian of the Tribune Co. Washington bureau reported.
The Inquirer signed Santorum and Curry in 2007 to write on alternating Thursdays. Santorum, a conservative Republican, had lost to Democrat Bob Casey in the preceding year's election. Curry was already writing for the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, serving the black press.
"I hope to keep George on his current monthly schedule," Jackson told Journal-isms.
Columnist Mark Bowden is also affected by the changes. He is a former Inquirer reporter and author of "Guests of the Ayatollah," an account of the Iran hostage crisis, and "Black Hawk Down; A Story of Modern War," about the bloody 1993 battle American soldiers fought in Mogadishu, Somalia.
- Peter Hamby, CNN: Santorum outraises Huckabee in second quarter
About 75 journalists, friends and political figures gathered at the Davis Funeral Chapel in Boston Friday to honor Luix V. Overbea, a pioneer black journalist and one of 44 founding members of the National Association of Black Journalists. Overbea, 87, died of kidney failure Saturday at a Boston rehabilitation and nursing care center.
State Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, talked about Overbea's love of and deep connection to the black community, and how he wrote well, freelance journalist Kenneth J. Cooper, an honorary pallbearer, reported for Journal-isms. At the service, Cooper related an anecdote posted in this space by Gwen Ifill of PBS about the assistance Overbea gave to a very green Ifill when she was a reporter at the Boston Herald. As did Cooper, Carmen Fields, a former Boston journalist, talked about guidance Overbea gave in covering a national convention of the NAACP.
Others at the Christian Science service, Cooper said, included Boston journalists Richard Chase, a former cameraman for a local television station; Melvin B. Miller, publisher of Bay State Banner; Dave England, formerly of the Monitor; Gary Witherspoon of the Boston Globe; and Brian Wright O'Connor, a longtime contributor to the Banner. Politicians included State Rep. Gloria Fox, D-Boston, and former State Rep. Shirley Owens-Hicks, D-Boston.
Further tributes were in the news obituaries. In the Boston Globe, Bryan Marquard wrote Thursday:
" 'He was a pioneering black journalist, not just for the Monitor, but for journalism,' John Yemma, Monitor editor, said of Mr. Overbea, who was the Monitor‚Äôs second African-American staff reporter.
"Mr. Overbea 'was very well connected in the black community in Boston and deeply connected to the civil rights movement and the black communities all over the country,‚Äô Yemma said. 'When he was at the Monitor, he was the guy you could go to and say, "I‚Äôm going to Cleveland, who should I talk to in the inner city?" He knew everybody.‚Äô
"Everybody wanted to know Mr. Overbea, too, particularly young journalists."
In the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, John Hinton noted that Overbea worked as reporter for the Journal and its sister newspaper, the Sentinel, from 1955 to 1968.
"Overbea replaced Alex Morisey as the Journal's only black reporter. In its series about race relations in Winston-Salem, the newspaper reported in March 1998 that Overbea wasn't constrained to covering just 'black news.' "
Overbea wrote for "The Negro Page" and in 1964, interviewed Jesse Jackson in one of the first interviews for the young Jackson, who was then leading lunch-counter sit-ins at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.
Overbea was well-known in the black community, said Karen Parker, a Journal copy editor, because he covered everything involving local blacks, from professional and social events to sports, Hinton wrote.
"Though he was accepted by the staff, townspeople reacted differently when Overbea started showing up at aldermen's meetings," his story said.
" 'Some of the white organizations were insulted, and they let me know about it,' Overbea said at the time.
The New York Times, the Washington Post and some black weeklies published obituaries late in the week of Pius Njaw?©, one of Africa‚Äôs most celebrated journalists, who died in a car accident Monday in Virginia.
A press-freedom advocate, Njaw?© founded the newspaper Le Messager (The Messenger) in Cameroon at age 22 in 1979, and over 30 years endured arrest about 126 times and was jailed on at least three occasions.
Coincidentally, the Committee to Protect Journalists began a series of blog entries to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of colonial rule in Francophone Africa, of which Cameroon is a part.
"I am strongly convinced that the press has contributed to the ongoing democratization process in Africa, far more than political, ruling and opposition actors," said C?©lestin Lingo, former chairman of the Cameroon Journalist Union and secretary general of the Media Network for Elections.
". . . We were operating in the oppressive context of monolithism, in which the groupthink of the dominant ideology imposed harsh censorship and reduced the poor existing media to reporting on news items, sports, and religious and folk ceremonies. . . .
"New information and communications technologies and the boldness of journalists have reduced censorship, even if it often takes more insidious forms (including intimidation and financial weakening). This is true for Cameroon, where media protest was considerably ahead of and boosted democratic claims. This is also true for Senegal, where the press obviously thwarted established electoral malpractices and prompted alternation. And examples abound elsewhere."
- Kob?©ret Dodo, Committee to Protect Journalists: Niger‚Äôs news media: From ‚Äòd?©cor‚Äô to dynamism
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- "Two broadcast networks have refused to run a controversial ad that opposes the creation of a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center," Joe Strupp reported Thursday for Media Matters for America. "WPIX TV in New York reported late Wednesday: 'The ad begins with a Muslim call to prayer, then images of terrorism. The narrator then proclaims mosque supporters rejoice in the 9/11 murder.' NBC and CBS, have rejected the commercial, claiming the message is insensitive to Muslims because it confuses moderate Islam with violent Jihad.' Hollywood Reporter adds that ABC and Fox have not been approached to run the ad."
- "Former 'Today' show supervising producer Javier Morgado has joined Latina magazine as Director of Public Relations & Brand Development," Veronica Villafa?±e reported Thursday for her Media Moves site. "He'll be responsible for managing the magazine's relationships with the media and strategic development of its print and online properties. He'll report to the magazine's publisher, Lauren Michaels and new editorial director Galina Espinoza."
- WGBH-FM in Boston has posted its four-part series on human and sexual trafficking in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The reporter, Phillip Martin, tells Journal-isms, "According to Norma Ramos of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the vast majority of women trafficked for the purpose of sex and labor are women of color. Internationally they are Asians, Africans and Eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians and Russians. Domestically they are overwhelmingly girls and women of color (Latina, African American and Asian)."
- On Tuesday, the Associated Press will begin moving a series of articles based on interviews conducted with more than 1,500 Latinos from coast to coast, the AP said. "They were questioned in English and Spanish about their attitudes and experiences, on topics from politics to education, religion to economics." The interviews were conducted by the AP and Univision, with the support of the Nielsen Co. and Stanford University. The stories are to move over the next several weeks.
- "Gina Redmond, a news anchor at Birmingham's NBC 13 for five years, is no longer with the station, an NBC 13 official confirmed today," Bob Carlton reported Tuesday for the Birmingham (Ala.) News. While an anchor in 2002 at Pittsburgh's WPXI, Redmond was sentenced to community service after pleading no contest to starting a bar fight and slapping her former producer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported then.
- The Obama administration wrongly deferred to the Colombian government when it denied a student visa to Colombian TV producer Hollman Morris, who received a Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard, the Boston Globe editorialized on Friday. "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should grant Morris a visa. Better yet, she could ask Colombia‚Äôs president-elect, Juan Manuel Santos, himself a former Nieman fellow, to clear the way for Morris by acknowledging in public that this critical journalist has nothing in common with terrorists."
- "Next Sunday, July 25, 'Dateline' debuts a new hour called 'America Now: Friends & Neighbors," Chris Ariens reported Friday for TVNewser. "NBC News cameras spent nine months documenting how the recession has affected people in Southeast Ohio. Ann Curry spent time in the area interviewing the hardworking poor, who have deep traditions in mining, manufacturing and military service. The special examines how the 'Great Recession' has affected America's poor across the heartland."
- In Rwanda, one of the two suspects in the killing of local journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage told a court Wednesday that he shot Rugambage out of anger and pleaded for forgiveness and a lighter sentence, the New Times in Kigali, Rwanda, reported. As a soldier then, Rugambage participated in the 1994 genocide. "We were not happy by the way Rugambage used to mock us and assuring us how our efforts to have him imprisoned failed and even went ahead to mockingly invite us to his wedding," Didace Nduguyangu told the court.
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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