Monday, October 23, 2006

The Audacity of the Media

Is Barack Obama the next U.S. president? That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind, and I’d dare say the media put it there. Oprah publicly endorsed Senator Obama a few weeks ago, and Time magazine recently devoted its cover to Obama and his presidential potential. Just yesterday Obama finally acknowledged that he is considering running for president in 2008 during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

There’s no question this is news. But has the media been handling Obama with kid gloves? Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet tackled the question today in her column . She and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune also addressed the issue Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

During the show, host Howard Kurtz posed an important question: “Does the senator walk on water, or have the media gone off the deep end?"

Do you think Obama is using the press much the way President Reagan did? If so, how do we keep falling into the same trap over and over again? Let’s not forget Obama is also promoting a book, the sales of which I’m sure have benefited from all this coverage.

During the show, Page compared the hype over Obama to that generated by Colin Powell in 1996 and said members of the media are not the only ones going crazy over Obama. Still, wouldn’t you say we have a responsibility to keep a level head, especially at times like these?

There’s also a question of timing. As Kurtz said, “There's a war in Iraq, there's a battle against al Qaeda, and the media are clamoring for a guy who two years ago was a state senator in Springfield, Illinois?"

For me, the most interesting thing about the media's coverage of Obama is the way race has (or has not) been addressed. The Time magazine piece put Obama up there with Oprah and Tiger Woods—African Americans that have been able to “transcend” racial stereotypes. Likewise, in response to a question from Kurtz, Page said part of Obama’s appeal to journalists and the public is that he appears to transcend his race. In other words, he makes us feel that we’ve progressed as a society and individuals because we are able to consider a black president. Yes, that is an interesting and newsworthy cultural moment. But should journalists be swept up in it, or be on the outside “objectively” analyzing it?

If we’ve become enamored with Obama, is it too late for us to go back to the shallow waters and treat him as we would anyone else who was considering running for the highest office in the country?



At Tuesday, October 24, 2006, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

Obama is a big story, and I think you're right in saying that it's for a number of reasons. Much of it is the timing, with the Democrats suddenly riding a wave of positive energy amidst a backdrop of an increasingly unpopular president and war. And I think a lot of it is that we're all holding out hope that politics can be new and exciting again.

Obama is a big star because he's a relative newcomer who speaks well and exudes charisma. He's the kind of politician that people like to get behind, rather than simply settling for whoever happens to be running for office.

I for one, think that the hype could be dangerous. Obama seems to be the real thing (though to be fair, we still don't know much about how he'll operate as president) and I worry that all the hype could end up hurting him if we burn out early. There should be coverage, for sure, but too much can always be a problem--even for the best candidates.


At Thursday, October 26, 2006, Anonymous AL said...

I agree with EG. This is another example of the media loving to pick up a story and play it in flashing colors. Despite how legitimate Obama may be as a qualified candidate for president, why is the media playing him in headlines everywhere?

Personally, from the first day the media fell in love with him, I haven't seen much coverage on actual issues and legislation he's worked on. But I've seen plenty on him talking about his books and possibly running for president.


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