Barack Obama once enjoyed a Teflon reputation in the mainstream media, where his allies were quick to deflect criticism of his presidency and bad news never seemed to stick.
But as scandal upon scandal have washed over his administration in recent weeks – first a floundering response to attacks in Benghazi that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, then reports the IRS targeted his political opponents, then news the Justice Department seized phone records of Associated Press reporters – even some of Obama’s most ardent supporters in the media are turning critical.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for example – he of the infamous “thrill up my leg” comment during Obama’s 2008 campaign – offered unusually harsh words earlier this week, complaining the president “obviously likes giving speeches more than he does running the executive branch.”
Politico – certainly not a conservative-leaning news source – described Matthews’ remarks as “a rare, unforgiving grilling of the president as severe as anything that might appear on Fox News.”
On another occasion this week, Matthews blasted testimony from former IRS chief Steve Miller, who suggested the agency’s behavior was inappropriate but denied any political targeting.
“That Mr. Miller guy,” Matthews said, “It’s like he didn’t see what he knew people certainly right, left and center could see, that when you target particular groups, you’re targeting particular groups. I mean, if this were on the other foot, and this was a George W. administration, they were targeting groups that were calling themselves progressives, I would say it’s prima facie evidence of targeting. I don’t think it’s complicated.”
As WND reported, even CNN talk-show host Piers Morgan paused in his relentless crusade for stricter gun-control laws to comment, “I’ve had some of the pro-gun lobbyists on here, saying to me, ‘Well, the reason we need to be armed is because of tyranny from our own government,’ and I’ve always laughed at them. I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Your government won’t turn itself on you.
“But, actually, this is vaguely tyrannical behavior by the American government,” Morgan concluded. “I think what the IRS did is bordering on tyrannical behavior. I think what the Department of Justice has done to the AP is bordering on tyrannical behavior.”
An Investor’s Business Daily editorial commented, “Many in the dominant press are indeed turning. Politico ran a chilling story headlined ‘The IRS Wants You to Share Everything’; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell accuses Obama of ‘the most outrageous excesses I’ve seen’ in her years in journalism, going back before Watergate; the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank accuses Obama of ‘a full frontal assault on the First Amendment.’”
“Let me tell you how bad it’s gotten,” NBC “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno quipped. “Fox News has changed its slogan from ‘Fair and Balanced’ to ‘See, I Told You So!’”
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow further noticed it’s not just the media, but also congressional allies jumping off the Obama bandwagon. When Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced plans to retire in 2014, he became the sixth Democrat to step down two years from now instead of running for re-election.
“Tell us if something is wrong there,” Maddow said rhetorically. “What is the secret about this place that has you fleeing like rats from a sinking ship?”
The trend, which may have begun when some Democrats started ducking for political cover from fallout over Obamacare, has only continued in the wake of Obama’s recent scandals.
Even Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bristled over the AP phone-records story, telling Salon he “can’t really defend the Department of Justice at all” and, “I just think this has been handled so wrong.”
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., agreed, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “I don’t think anyone truly believes that the president has given a sufficient answer for America, much less our press [about the AP scandal]. The president has to come forward and share why he did not alert the press that they were going to do this. He has to tell Americans, including me, what was this national security question? You just can’t raise the flag and expect us just to salute it every time without any reason, and the same thing applies to the IRS. We’ve got to give him an opportunity to root out any wrongdoing, whether it’s just negligence or it’s criminal.”
Other examples of criticism coming from typically left-leaning allies include the following:
- Even in the middle of a WND column defending the administration on Benghazi and the IRS scandal, left-wing author and journalist Bill Press declared, “The Justice Department’s raid of AP phone records is nothing less than a totally unjustified, wholesale trashing of the First Amendment.”
- The Daily Beast – a website merged with Newsweek – ran a column from James Goodale, the attorney who defended the New York Times against President Richard Nixon in the famous Pentagon Papers trial, who asserted, “President Barack H. Obama’s outrageous seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records, allegedly to discover sources of leaks, should surprise no one. Obama has relentlessly pursued leakers ever since he became president. He is fast becoming the worst national security press president ever, and it may not get any better.”
- In an interview with the New York Observer, Goodale added, “Obama has all these things that he’s done to the press on national security matters that Nixon never did.”
- Lanny J. Davis, a former crisis manager for President Clinton who admits he voted for and backs Obama, told National Public Radio, “[Obama's] crisis-management communications team is absent without leave. Ever since we lost the message on health care, I’ve wondered if there’s anybody there trying to get out in front on the facts.”
- NPR further reported Davis saying the IRS story goes to the heart of government abuse of power: “The president of the United States should hold a press conference and commit to a full, 100-percent investigation in concert with the Republican leadership of the House and say, ‘I want to have on my desk the list of anybody who recommended doing this. In the government, in the White House, or anywhere else.’”
- Time political columnist Joe Klein wrote of the IRS news, even before the AP scandal broke, “Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. … This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. … [Obama's] unwillingness to concentrate – and I mean concentrate obsessively – on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.”
- Dana Milbank of the Washington Post penned similar criticism of Obama. “President Passerby needs urgently to become a participant in his presidency,” Milbank wrote, arguing Obama was reacting to the scandals with a portrayed ignorance reminiscent of “just some bloke on a bar stool, getting his information from the evening news.”
- Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press leveled his criticism at White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at a May 14 press briefing: “The White House right now is confronting a confluence of issues – Benghazi talking points, IRS reviews of political groups, Justice Department review of journalists’ phone records. And in every instance, either the president or you have placed the burden of responsibility someplace else. On the Benghazi talking points, it’s been political motivations on the Hill. On the IRS, it’s been the bureaucrats at the IRS. And on the Justice Department issue, yesterday in your statement you said those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department. But it is the president’s administration, so I wonder, doesn’t responsibility for setting tone and setting direction ultimately rest with the president on these matters?”
- Other reporters at the same press briefing passed up softball questions for tougher lines of inquiry, including whether news of the IRS scandal was “withheld until after the election,” whether or not the AP subpoena’s constituted an “overreach,” whether the administration “might be hiding something,” if the IRS is being “truthful” and how the president feels about “being compared to President Nixon.” The press corps also grilled Carney relentlessly on the president’s reputation for prosecuting those who leak information to the press.
- Michigan’s Rep. Sander Levin, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in Friday’s hearings before the committee the IRS and its employees “have completely failed the American people” by “singling out organizations for review based on their name or political views, rather than their activity. … All of us are angry about this on behalf of the nation.”
- “As you know, it’s casual Friday, which means at the White House they’re casually going through everyone’s phone calls and records,” joked Leno on Friday. “Love him or hate him, you got to admit President Obama is a new kind of Democrat. I mean, think about it. He’s embroiled in three scandals, not one of them involves sex. That has never happened before. … It’s been a tough week for President Obama. In fact, this morning he called Mitt Romney and said, ‘Look, if you still want the job.’”
Despite the media’s change in tone from easy forgiveness to legitimate criticism of Obama, the Media Research Council’s Brent Bozell warns the media are not really “up in arms” with the Obama administration, but are simply having a “lover’s quarrel,” particularly over the AP flap.
“The Bill Clinton syndrome is going to be upon us,” Bozell predicted on CNBC’s May 16 “The Kudlow Report” program, “where it’s time to move on, we’ve covered it [the media will say] and they’re going to turn the fire right on Republicans as being obstructionists. … The zeal of going after Watergate with Woodward and Bernstein, that hasn’t been there.”