Perpetually fuming about President Obama, Sean Hannity widened his rant Wednesday night on Fox News and condemned the “lapdog, kiss ass media” that allegedly lets Obama have his way. Echoing the same attack, Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that ”Mr. Obama is a once-in-a-generation demagogue with a compliant press corps,” while the anti-Obama Daily Caller pushed the headline, ”Lapdog Media Seeking Lap To Lie In.”
Complaining about the “liberal media,” has been a running, four-decade story for conservative activists. But what we’re hearing more of lately is the specific allegation that the press has purposefully laid down for the Democratic president, and that it’s all part of a master media plan to help Democrats foil Republicans.
The rolling accusation caught my attention since I wrote a book called Lapdogs, which documented the Beltway media’s chronic timidity during the previous Republican administration, and particularly with regards to the Iraq War. I found it curious that Hannity and friends are now trying to turn the rhetorical tables with a Democrat in the White House, and I was interested in what proof they had to lodge that accusation against today’s press.
It turns out the evidence is quite thin. For instance, onenever-ending partisan cry has been the press has “ignored” the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year; that they’re protecting Obama. Yet theNew York Times and Washington Post have published nearly 800 articles and columns mentioning Benghazi since last September, according to Nexis.
What the lapdog allegation really seems to revolve around is the fact that conservatives are angry that Obama remains popular with the public. Rather than acknowledge that reality, partisans increasingly blame the press and insist if only reporters and pundits would tell ‘the truth’ about Obama, then voters would truly understand how he’s out to destroy liberty and freedom and capitalism.
Sorry, but that’s not what constitutes a lapdog press corps. And to confuse chronic partisan whining with authentic media criticism is a mistake. The Hannity-led claim also isn’t accurate. Studies have shown that during long stretches of his first term, Obama was hammered with “unrelentingly negative” press coverage.
By contrast, the lapdog era of the Bush years represented nothing short of an institutional collapse of the American newsroom. And it was one that, given the media’s integral role in helping to sell the Iraq War, did grave damage to our democracy.
Looking back at his tenure as Washington Post ombudsman, Michael Getler wrote in 2005 that the mainstream media’s performance in 2002 and 2003 likely represented the industry’s worst failing in nearly half a century. “How did a country on the leading edge of the information age get this so wrong and express so little skepticism and challenge?” Getler asked.
Meanwhile, given its current primetime lineup, sometimes it’s hard to recall that in 2003 MSNBC was so nervous about employing a liberal host who opposed Bush’s ordered invasion that it fired Phil Donahue preemptively, just weeks before war began. An internal memo warned that Donahue presented “a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.” (He was MSNBC’s highest rated host at the time of his firing.)
Months worth of chronic timidity and newsroom bowing-down to the White House’s war culture clearly helped pave the way to war.
Laying out the reasons for an unprecedented invasion during his final, pre-war invasion press conference on March 6, 2003, Bush mentioned al-Qaida and the terrorist attacks of September 11 thirteen times in less than an hour. Not a single journalist that night challenged the presumed connection Bush was making between al-Qaida and Iraq, despite the fact that intelligence sources had publicly questioned any such association.
The egregious, look-the-other-way coverage continued long after the invasion. The U.S. media’s collective disinterest in Britain’s Downing Street Memo represented a perfect example of dogged lapdog behavior.
That, unfortunately, is what a lapdog press corps looks like. Let’s not diminish the significance of that historic failure by pretending today’s Beltway press is repeating that catastrophic and unprecedented abdication under Obama. Just because Obama’s most strident critics have failed to turn voters against the president doesn’t mean the press isn’t doing its job.