Obama and the press: After four years, is the honeymoon finally ending?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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On the heels of the Bob Woodward affair, it is becoming clear that the move for mainstream journalists who want to make news and call attention to themselves is to turn against Obama. (When 99 percent of your colleagues are carrying Obama’s water, this becomes a quick and cheap way to separate yourself from the pack.)

This has been a long time coming, but it’s not entirely unexpected. Having held their collective tongues long enough for Obama to be re-elected, it’s now time to have some fun — and make a name for themselves, once again. This will be rare, as their are still consequences to speaking out against the lame duck president. But the lure of attention and buzz will surely tempt more and more people to go rogue — even if just to dip their toes in the water.

Bill Keller’s New York Times op-ed, “Obama’s Fault,” is a good example of the recent shift in coverage. Surely journalists aren’t finally getting around to noticing that Obama likes to play politics! — yet it seems to be a brand new discovery for many.

Speaking of playing politics, if you haven’t seen the latest Foreign Policy column about President Obama (or the New York Times story about it), it’s worth a read.

Essentially, Vali Nasr, whom the Times describes as “a former senior State Department policy expert” became disillusioned while working for Obama.

Here are a couple key graphs from the FP story:

One could argue that in most administrations, an inevitable imbalance exists between the military-intelligence complex, with its offerings of swift, dynamic, camera-ready action, and the foreign-policy establishment, with its seemingly ponderous, deliberative style. But this administration advertised itself as something different. On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly stressed that he wanted to get things right in the broader Middle East, reversing the damage that had resulted from the previous administration’s reliance on faulty intelligence and its willingness to apply military solutions to problems it barely understood.


Not only did that not happen, but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration’s reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns.

(Emphasis mine.)

Nasr’s column is perhaps even more concerning than the rest, inasmuch as the potential consequences are so serious. Still, it seems to fit into the new narrative about Obama’s lack of leadership and penchant for putting politics ahead of governing. During the second term, presidents have a harder time keeping even their friends in line.

Again, this is to be expected. The press had a lot of fun at Bill Clinton’s expense in the second administration. This is not to say that Obama will be judged as harshly as a Republican might be, but it is to say that he should expect that the honeymoon might finally be over.

Matt K. Lewis