In the old Dr. Faustus story, a young scholar bargains away his soul to the devil for promises of obtaining almost anything he wants.
The American media has done much the same thing with the Obama administration. In return for empowering a fellow liberal, the press gave up its traditional adversarial relationship with the president.
But after five years of basking in a shared progressive agenda, the tab for such ecstasy has come due, and now the media is lamenting that it has lost its soul.
At first, the loss of independence seemed like a minor sacrifice. In 2008, MSNBC's Chris Matthews sounded almost titillated by an Obama speech, exclaiming, "My, I felt this thrill going up my leg." Earlier, New York Times columnist David Brooks had fixated on Obama's leg rather than his own: "I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I'm thinking, a) he's going to be president, and b) he'll be a very good president."
For worshiper and former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas, Obama was divine: "Obama's standing above the country, above the world, he's sort of God." TV pundit and presidential historian Michael Beschloss ranked the newly elected Barack Obama as "the smartest guy ever to become president."
For a press that had exposed Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Monica Lewinsky affair, and had torn apart George W. Bush over everything from the Iraq War to Hurricane Katrina, this hero worship seemed obsessive. The late liberal reporter Michael Hastings summed up a typical private session between President Obama and the press during the 2012 campaign: "Everyone, myself included, swooned. Swooned! Head over heels. One or two might have even lost their minds. ... We were all, on some level, deeply obsessed with Obama, crushing hard."
Sometimes the media and Obama were one big happy family -- literally. The siblings of the presidents of ABC and CBS News both are higher-ups in the Obama administration. The White House press secretary's wife is a correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America."
When Obama's chief political aide, David Axelrod, went to work for MSNBC, Obama joked, "... a nice change of pace, because MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod." Nor was Obama shy about rubbing in his subjects' hero worship: "My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I'm doing my job better." Recently in Africa, Obama advised his traveling press corps to "behave," then compared them unfavorably with the more polite and compliant media of an increasingly authoritarian South Africa.
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