THE OBAMA PHENOMENA
If the election were tomorrow (and maybe it should be), Barack Obama would be president. Thanks to a media transfixed by the candidate’s star power, Senator Obama has seemingly unstoppable momentum. He’s got the media and the masses. The delegates can’t be far behind. And that’s the ball game, folks. The race may be over before it’s even been run.
So what’s the point of having an election then, if this thing has already been decided? Just think of all the money and trouble we could save ourselves by just calling the race early and getting the damn thing over with. If it’s a foregone conclusion, can we all go home now?
Here’s a novel idea: let’s redirect all that obscene money candidates spend on campaigns back to the people. There’s a few billion bucks we could use to feed the hungry and the homeless in this country. Might even solve the economic crisis. It would certainly make a sizeable dent in the debt. Nah…that’s far too compassionate and wise. Can’t do that.
All sarcasm aside, I am troubled by the media’s rush to crown Barack Obama the once and future king (or perhaps the next Dr. King) after only five primaries. Ever since his astonishing win in Iowa, it seems the pundits can’t contain their own bias. Nor could they disguise their disappointment when Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire and Nevada. And after South Carolina, I’m convinced they’ve lost all objectivity and possibly their minds.
No sooner had Obama been declared the winner in South Carolina, in came the news that Caroline Kennedy, the late president’s daughter, was endorsing Barack Obama. The very next day, Senator Edward Kennedy’s endorsement of Senator Obama was treated like the Second Coming of Camelot. All three cable news network took his speech live (quite rare), and proclaimed that “Obama is the next JFK.”
WHAT STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS?
The endorsement drew the focus of the national media away from the runup to President Bush’s State of the Union address (as someone who has worked in newsrooms for more than 20 years, let me tell you how unheard of that is!), making the front pages of the major dailies and the lead of each of the networks last night.
ABC World News reported, “Today the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny. The Kennedy clan annointed Barack Obama, a son of Camelot.” Sen. Ted Kennedy: “I know that he’s ready to be the president on day one.” For Bill Clinton, “who has always cast himself as President Kennedy’s political heir, today’s endorsement was a slap to face.”
The CBS Evening News reported, “It was a moment packed with political significance. Ted and Caroline Kennedy, the surviving brother and child of a revered Democratic president declaring that the torch has been passed.”
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams led by contending: “It’s been 45 years since a Kennedy has been in the White House, and yet because of the American fascination with the family name, and the family business of politics, the Kennedy name still has the power to grab the attention of millions of Americans.”
USA Today reports Obama also “picked up the support Monday of author Toni Morrison, who once called Bill Clinton ‘the first black president.'” The AP reports Morrison “said she has admired Clinton for years because of her knowledge and mastery of politics, but then dismissed that experience in favor of Obama’s vision.”
CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric teased, “Passing the torch: Barack Obama is tapped as the candidate to continue the Kennedy legacy.” NBC’s Lee Cowan, who earlier this month conceded “it’s almost hard to remain objective” when covering Obama, showed he also has a soft spot for the Kennedys as he radiated over how “the endorsement brought the Kennedy mystique to this campaign, not in a whisper, but a roar.”
With “New Son of Camelot” on screen over video of Obama and Ted Kennedy, Nightline anchor Terry Moran led thusly: “Ted and Caroline Kennedy pass the torch to Barack Obama to carry the legacy of JFK…
Good evening, everyone. I’m Terry Moran. And tonight, on a night when the President gave his final State of the Union address, he was overshadowed.” Moran soon hailed how “the political world was transfixed by the spectacle of the most powerful Democratic family of the 20th century christening a new torch bearer for the 21st.”
HAVE WE GONE “CAMELOT CRAZY”?
I’m not saying that Obama isn’t an exciting candidate. He is. This man inspires and stirs the minds and hearts of people in ways we haven’t witnessed in 40 years. He’s one hell of a handsome fellow with charisma to burn. He opens his mouth and poetry flows from his lips. He also seems to have some pretty good ideas about how to get the country back on track. But so do his Democratic opponents – and we’re suddenly not hearing much from them. Why not? Aren’t Clinton and Edwards still in the race?
Well, last time I checked, yes. So why aren’t they getting a lot more face time on tee-vee?
The answer is clear to anyone who has been paying attention. The media even admits their pro-Obama bias, albeit sheepishly. They just can’t help it, they say: yes, we’re journalists, but we’re human beings, too – and we are simply moved by what Obama is doing. Is that so wrong?
Well, actually, yes it is. This is an election year, we’re only a few primaries into the race, and we have a stellar array of impressive Democratic candidates to cover. Our job as journalists is to provide fair coverage across the board to all. Our job is not to steer voters towards one candidate or another, nor is it to heap undue praise or criticism on any of them. We’re supposed to report the news and get the hell out of the way, remember?
In the midst of all the excitement, we seem to be forgetting ourselves. We’ve all forgotten that opinion belongs on the Editorial page. We are not serving the American people well if we are not providing accurate information and dispassionate analysis – even if it makes really good TV. We are not paid to drool all over Obama’s shoes, no matter how moved we may be by his message.
FAIR AND BALANCED, MY ASS
The 2008 election will likely be the most important in our lifetime. This race is for all the marbles — so this is hardly a time for the media to lose theirs. Americans must make a well-informed decision when they walk into the voting booth. How can they possibly do that if information about the candidates is selectively made available?
This was precisely the problem faced by dark horse candidates such as Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel (who is still running, incidentally – although CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX won’t tell you that), Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. On the Republican side, it’s a bloody miracle if Ron Paul can get five minutes on any network besides C-SPAN. And just imagine the uphill battle a Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader will have as Green or Independent challengers this year. One can’t win the presidency on netroots buzz alone.
Without mainstream media coverage, a candidate’s message is lost on the people. Unless each and every candidate is afforded the opportunity to present themselves and their platform to the public, they don’t stand a snowball’s chance.
So, I guess Lou Dobbs may as well throw his hat into the ring – at least he’s got a highly-rated nightly show on CNN – he has a strong base of followers and a media machine revved up and ready to take him to November. Dobbs may be the only hope for Independents who reject the two-party system outright, and who desperately need a candidate. But not just any candidate. This dog must hunt – otherwise the time, effort and expense of a campaign is an utter waste. Lou Dobbs is no fool, he knows this game all too well. (Which probably explains why he is emphatically not running!)
The same could be said for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who also has his own media platform, a weekly show on Air America radio. This program is not only heard coast-to-coast, but around the world. Kennedy has already won countless thousands of converts via his books, articles, and public speaking engagements – to say nothing of having the Kennedy name.
The Independent Populists, Democrats, Liberals, Greens and Progressives who embrace him are hungry for a real candidate in 2008 – and they still haven’t found what they’re looking for in anyone but Bobby. They haven’t given up. They still want him to run. Now.