Now that Barack Obama is closing in on the Democratic nomination, some are wondering whether the media will be tougher in their coverage. There's a better question: Is it possible to be any softer? The media writ large have been sounding like they're covering a messiah more than a man. So was Hillary Clinton right to complain that Barack Obama has been more celebrated than vetted?
Let's be clear. Hillary Clinton has been the beneficiary of so many cotton-candy profiles and "I Am Woman" honorifics that it's almost impossible that her bad press will ever come anywhere close to balancing out her mountains of puff over the last 15 years. The "rough" press she's been getting since Super Tuesday is merely the political prognosticators noticing she's getting her clock cleaned by 18 to 20 points in a lot of states. Even so, she's still being awarded softball interviews -- like the latest in a long series of twinkly Katie Couric gal-pal segments on "60 Minutes."
It's also clear that when it comes to Hillary Clinton complaining about the need for Obama to be "vetted" on scandal stories, we should all fall to the floor laughing. If she thinks she's had a rough scrubbing on cattle futures and travel-office cronyism and Whitewater lawyering and Puerto Rican terrorist pardons and on and on, she's living in a parallel universe.
But she's not wrong that the media love's for Obama surpasses their devotion to her. Just start with the way they all flail with outrage when a conservative uses his full name, Barack Hussein Obama. It's not a lie. It's not a distortion. It's his name. Chris Matthews thinks this tactic is "vicious," this "ethnic stuff" is "evil." Keith Olbermann even sneered at his fellow Bush-basher Jon Stewart for making a joke out of Obama's complete name at the Oscars.
The "mainstream" media don't just feel Obama's pain, they loudly object to any hostility whatsoever.
Ridiculing Obama's middle name stopped being funny a while ago. But the idea that the Obamaholics on TV can pound the desk and proclaim that these tame middle-name jokes are beyond the pale is utterly ridiculous. Are Olbermann and Matthews really going to claim they've been gentle with Bush and Cheney? Olbermann can suggest Bush is a totalitarian who has commenced the "beginning of the end of America," and Matthews can call Bush a "sadistic murderer" and hope for a modern-day Nuremberg trial, as if the Bushies were the Nazis, and then they have the chutzpah to complain about middle names?
Many liberals in the media object to "whispers" that Obama is a Muslim. On CBS's "60 Minutes," reporter Steve Kroft told Obama that the idea that Obama's a Muslim "popped up on our radar screen all the time." Obama asked: "Did you correct them, Steve?" Kroft said yes. Obama decried a "systematic e-mail smear campaign" that's offensive not only to him, "a devout Christian," but to Muslims because of the "fear-mongering." Kroft then turned on Clinton and pressed her to deny that her campaign was spreading this mangy stuff. Hillary replied that Obama's not a Muslim, "as far as I know." Kroft kept complaining: "It's just scurrilous." But Kroft made no attempt to press Obama on what his actual religious beliefs are, or how "devout" he is in attending services every Sunday. These matters make liberal reporters uncomfortable. What makes them comfortable is trying to convince the audience that their fellow liberal Obama is a heroic victim.
But like Olbermann and Matthews, Kroft has a very flexible, very partisan definition of what is "scurrilous" in media coverage. One week before on the same "60 Minutes" program, CBS reporter Scott Pelley publicized wildly unsubstantiated charges against former Bush aide and strategist Karl Rove, who allegedly sought to ruin the crooked Democratic governor of Alabama Don Siegelman, now in prison. Pelley set up an accuser named Jill Simpson: "Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman in a compromising sexual position with one of his aides."
Brit Hume of Fox News pointed out the next day that the Associated Press reported that CBS's star witness had never made that allegation before to reporters or lawyers in hours upon hours of interviews and a sworn affidavit. Hume added that Karl Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin said no one from CBS approached Rove to give him a chance to respond to these off-the-wall sex-picture charges.
The dramatic double standard of our media elite -- a hyperbolic outrage at any criticism of Barack Obama, even as they insult and smear Republicans without restraint or regret, or evidence -- is one reason why it's going to hard to find the audacity to hope for media fairness or balance in this upcoming general election campaign.