John McCain and others have accused the media of being in love with Obama. Recently, Gabriel Sherman wrote an article in the New Republic with the suggestive title “End of the Affair.” The article is interesting and it lays out examples in which the press has felt slighted by Obama.
When I read the article, I was not surprised. First, while the media is often presented as a monolithic entity (“the media”), this is not the case. The media is composed of individuals with varying political views and emotional states. Some of these people are clearly very fond of Obama. Others have been consistent in their lack of love for the man. Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are both major media figures and neither one of them has ever shown any love for Obama. Quite the opposite, in fact.
However, the criticism that some people’s objectivity seemed to have been impaired by a pro-Obama bias does seem to be a reasonable one. Despite this, it seems that the claim that the media loved Obama was exaggerated. That said, members of the media do need to work on their objectivity. This applies to those who have been biased for Obama and those who have been biased against him.
Second, many people in the media are fickle. If you look back through the relations between the media and various political candidates, you will see the love come and go. For example, some allege that the media largely gave Bill Clinton a free pass during his administration and then turned against him (or he against them) during his wife’s Presidential campaign. As another example, McCain was well liked by the media when he was a maverick back in 2000. Now that he is running against Obama, the love seems to have gone away. The fact that people in the media are fickle is hardly a shock. After all, most people are fickle and media is no exception. Further, Sherman’s article seems to indicate that certain people are feeling spite towards Obama because they believe that he has wronged them somehow. Some have complained about lack of access, some have complained about how Obama’s people handle them, and others tell of various other perceived slights. I suspect part of the problem is that certain people in the media expect to be treated in a special way and react very badly when they do not receive that treatment. Hence, they are expressing their spite by withholding their love.
This does, of course, raise questions about how a candidate should handle the press. While the ideal would be complete openness, the reality of politics makes this a practical impossibility. Obama is competing with McCain and hence he needs to keep certain information private. To use an analogy, a football coach doesn’t allow reporters complete access to all his game plans, practices and his play book. That said, a candidate for President is a public figure and does have an obligation to be accessible to the people. Naturally, people in the media see themselves as having a special right to this access and get a bit miffed when they do not get all they see as their due.
Another factor that would legitimately limit press access is the fact that candidate only has so much time and many things to do. As such, the people in the media have to expect certain limits on their access. However, this seems to upset certain people. For example, theTime’s Karen Tumulty complained that if a reporter was given ten minutes for an interview with Obama, she would only get ten minutes and no more. However, she has no grounds to be upset. If she was promised ten minutes and got five, then she would have grounds to upset. However, a person who gets what she was promised seems to have no justification for any spite or complaints.
To use an analogy, as a professor I only have so many office hours and I also have classes that I need to teach. If a student comes in to make up a test twenty minutes before I have to leave for a class, I can give her those twenty minutes. When I leave after twenty minutes, she has no legitimate grounds to be upset. After all, I have an obligation to the students in that class. It would be wrong to place her need to make up a test over the rights of the 35 people in the class who are waiting for me to come and bore them about Venn Diagrams, Descartes or ethical theory.
Likewise, if a reporter is given her promised ten minutes and then Obama has to move on to something else on his schedule, then she has no cause for complaint. Unless, of course, she is so special that what she wants overrides other concerns.
Now, if a reporter is in love with Obama, then she would probably expect him to make time for her. After all, love is supposed to make a person special. If Obama limited his wife to ten minute meetings and restricted her access, then she would be justifiably upset. Interestingly, some of the complaints made by the media sound much like the complaints of a lover who is not being treated in the special way she expects.
However, reporters (as reporters) should not expect such love from candidates. After all, they need to act like professionals and accept that there is a limit to what one professional can expect of another. Also, the media is supposed to provide (in the ideal) objective reporting. Letting love and spite interfere with this is unprofessional and unacceptable.
As a professor, I face a similar sort of problem. I interact with my students as people and hence cannot help but like or dislike certain students For example, I tend to like students who share similar interests with me, show up to class, and are active participants in their education. I tend to dislike students who show up late (or rarely), try to disrupt the class, or otherwise express contempt and hostility towards the education process. However, I cannot allow my personal likes and dislikes influence how I evaluate a student’s academic performance. Like all professors, I have had very likable students do poorly or even fail my classes. I have also had very unlikable people do very well. Good professors try to be objective and focus just on the academics and not on feelings. I think this was best expressed by a friend of mine when she said “I really started to hate that guy and wanted to fail him so badly. But he did excellent work and earned that A. It hurt to put that in the grade book, but it would have hurt me more not to.” The people in the media need to take the same approach and keep their feelings of love or spite in check and do their jobs like professionals. It can be hard thing to do, but it is what should be done.
“The media” has essentially stopped arguing that it doesn’t have a bias. It does. It shows in how journalists vote and has been doccumented over and over by various study groups. Bernard Goldberg, a long-time media liberal, but an honest one, documents this in his book, “Crazies to the left of me, wimps to the right.”
Limbaugh gained his fame, primarily because he was different. There was no one doing what he was, when he first came on the air. Same with O’reilly.
There is really no such thing as monolithic, in the pure sense. But “herd mentality” sure is an appropriate term when it comes to news.