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Appeasement Journalism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Will the Manhattan-Beltway media elite cover for President Obama throughout 2012?

Of course they will. The only question is whether they will even be self-aware about the blocking they are doing for the president.

The most egregious examples will be the protections given the president's astonishing failures abroad. Mitt Romney, for example, last week quite rightly accused the president of "adopting an appeasement strategy" towards the dictators of Iran and Syria, arguing to the Republican Jewish Coalition that Obama "has bowed to foreign dictators," and adding that "when the opportunity arose to defend freedom, he’s either been late to the game or failed to show up at all."

The president responds by citing the killing of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda terrorists. As CNN anchor John King readily acknowledged to me on my radio show yesterday, this was an enormous non-sequitur from the president but, King continued, all politicians use non-sequiturs.

(For the benefit of the Pittsburgh Steeler fans, appeasement is a state-to-state policy in which one state --say Great Britain or the U.S.-- refuses to confront the growing aggressiveness of another state --say Germany or Iran-- but instead offers concessions and resolutions. "Appeasement" is not a refusal to track down and kill terrorists.)

The president also gets treated to softball interviews, such as that we saw on Sunday night from the formerly ferocious team at 60 Minutes, which was the journalistic equivalent of Justin Verlander throwing underhand to Albert Pujols when the new Angel comes to Detroit in 2012.

This rolling-over for a weak leader by his admirers in the press has a pedigree.

Throughout the run-up to the outbreak of war in 1939, the Times of London and the BBC did everything they could to support the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain. Times' editor Geoffrey Dawson led the charge to protect the umbrella carrying Chamberlain from Winston Churchill's charges, and part of the blame for England's unpreparedness and the massive loss of life it caused rests squarely on the Fourth Estate's refusal to press Chamberlain much less to credit Churchill through the latter's wilderness years.

President Obama's incredibly weak and confused foreign policy passed by the chance to assist the Green Revolution in Iran, stood by as Syrian dictator Assad has mowed down thousands of his people, and is frozen as Egypt rushes towards radicalization and Libyan armaments flow into the hands of militants after the botched campaign to oust Qaddafi took six months rather than six days or six weeks to complete.

Now a super-secret stealth drone is in the hands of the mullahs who run Iran, and the president's "strategy" was to ask for it back. I asked The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza about the MSM's handling of this and related stories on yesterday's show. (Transcript here.) This extended exchange is worth reviewing at length:

HH: Let’s talk about the one aspect of the debate that did not get much coverage, and this is a huge deal, Ryan. This is very important. The downing of that drone may be the greatest blow to American national security since the Rosenbergs gave nuclear technology to the Russians, to the Soviets. Rick Perry put out there the challenge that the President blew the opportunity to destroy that technology. I don’t think anyone doubts the nature of the seriousness of this loss. But the question was raised that the President could have done something about that. That’s a huge charge. And by the way, it’s been echoed on this show by other people. I haven’t seen that anywhere covered. Have you?

RL: I haven’t seen much of that at all, actually. No, but look, this is one of those situations where had, where we are at an incredible disadvantage, because we have no idea what the details of the downing were, what the options available to the military were, right? To sit back and say with confidence that oh, we should have bombed the drone without knowing more than his public, I’m not sure that you can make that judgment.

HH: But Rick Perry did.

RL: (laughing)

HH: What I’m saying is Rick Perry made this argument, and that it was not commented on. And people on my side of the aisle say that’s because the MSM, the Manhattan-Beltway media elite, will cover for Obama in what may be the most significant strategic miscue of his administration.

RL: Usually, the best explanation for why things don’t get covered, something like that doesn’t get covered, is there’s not…so if Newt Gingrich, or Romney, the two frontrunners that all the political press are focused on right now, if they had come out and echoed what Perry said, maybe you would have seen something a little big differently. Maybe the press would have delved into the argument. But unless it rises to that level, Rick Perry popping off on something isn’t news right now, because Rick Perry is not at the head of the pack anymore.

HH: Well, and here’s a counterargument.

RL: And I think it’s a horse race journalism, the obsession with the horse race journalism that drives this stuff more.

[commercial break]

HH: Ryan Lizza, I appreciate you coming on. I want to close by going back to that subject. In the run up to World War II, the BBC and the Times of London provided complete cover for Stanley Baldwin, and then Neville Chamberlain, in the policy of appeasement. This past week, the President of the United States was obliged to say bin Laden doesn’t think I’m an appeaser, which is a complete misreading of history. I don’t think the President understands what appeasement is. But then Rick Perry comes along, and others come along, and talk about this drone being down, and I wonder. Do you worry ever that elite media, with this President, is simply not pushing hard enough on the most important stories, and that they’re falling into BBC/Times of London land?

RL: Look, there’s…I don’t’ think this is a party thing. I think this is a power thing. And I think the Beltway media always has to be careful about not aggressively whoever is in power. And you know, there are a lot of people who thought that that was a problem in the Bush era. A lot of people who thought the run up to the Iraq war, some of the voices that were skeptical about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction capability weren’t listened to, and that the press was sort of used by the administration. So I would never say that that’s not a possibility. But specifically on the spy plane falling down? I don’t see, so far, that a spy plane being captured and not destroyed by the U.S, I don’t see the media falling down on the job there. What’s the case that they have?

HH: That they have not communicated the significance of the loss of stealth technology, and in particular, that specific drone, which is the equivalent, actually, it’s many generations ahead of the AWAC. I mean, this is enormous. This is a strategic loss, like I said, on a par with the Rosenbergs. And I just haven’t seen it reported on other than oh, they’ve got a drone, and interesting picture.

RL: Yeah, look, you might have a fair argument there. I’m not a huge defender of the day to day political press and how they cover the campaigns. There’s a huge number of issues that get completely left out. And the reasons that things get covered and others don’t, I would say, though, is not, is rarely because of ideological blinders, and is much more often because of the institutional blinders, and the way that the political press corps looks at stores and the way that they determine something is an important story or not.

HH: Last question, Ryan Lizza. The 60 Minutes interview – puff job?

RL: (laughing) You know, it was, you thought it was too soft?

HH: I thought it couldn’t even get qualified as whiffleball.

RL: You know, I think Obama, he’ll probably do some tougher stuff.

HH: But I mean, it wasn’t very tough, was it?

RL: You know, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I didn’t watch the whole thing.

HH: I wouldn’t, either.

RL: I didn’t watch the whole thing. I saw some of the excerpts, but you know, it didn’t sound like it was toughest interview ever. Lizza knows what we all know, but professional courtesy obliges him not to say too loudly that CBS took a fall for the president, just as most of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite have since the campaign of 2008, and just as they will in 2012.

This is far worse than the ordinary left-wing bias of Democrats-disguised-as-journalists. When the subject matter ought to be the president's serial foreign policy failures and retreats, the MSM conducts a 1930s-style British journalism, and a dozen Geoffrey Dawsons are in the making. But don't expect Time Magazine's Jay Carney --oops, he's now the president's press secretary-- to be challenged on such matters. Except perhaps by Jake Tapper, which is why Jake won't be replacing the failed Christiane Amanpour in the This Week anchor chair. This is far too serious a time to do other than bring back former Clinton White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos. ABC can't be too tough on the president, or CBS and NBC will get all those exclusives.

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