Media

Media Tries to Sabotage Obamas With Pseudo Stories on Faux Gaffes But No One Buys It

In search of a scandal, the media blows hot air about President Obama's overseas etiquette instead of actually covering the G-20 summit.

The real question about how Barack and Michelle Obama are being received on their Rolling-G-20-Summit/Euro-Tour '09 has nothing to do with how the Europeans treat them, but all about the American mainstream media itself: What infinitesimal nit will they find to pick about the new president's conduct abroad that can be blown up into a two- to three-day pseudo-international incident?

You know the sort of story I mean. We're not talking about serious systemic issues, such as the different perspective a country like Germany (with universal health care, generous unemployment benefits, and a highly unionized work force) might have on the need for a global stimulus when compared to the U.S., where the party Obama just turned out of office has proposed effectively privatizing Medicare. That would be too much like journalism, and way too MEGO.

We're looking here for a truly small-bore, utterly irrelevant, content-free distraction, like the ones the MSM entertained us with during March Meme Madness. Stories like Obama

You know the media nitwit-pickers have struck when, at some point, they've made the exact opposite charge -- that Obama's too serious, too off the cuff, or does too little, all well-worn themes from the campaign. On Tuesday, for example, a Fox News promo tried to scorch the president with the tagline "Rock star no more," suggesting he's lost his touch. Of course, that's the B-side of McCain's complaint last summer (megaphoned all over Fox) that Obama drew too big a crowd in Berlin, proving he was the "world's biggest celebrity" -- and if the Eurotrash love him, how could straight-talkin' 'muricans ever accept him as president?

But let's face it: However unpopular American and British financiers may be in Europe, even Fox is having a hard time insisting that the populist firehose over there is aimed at Obama himself. The press spent two weeks in this country trying to hang Obama with the AIG bonuses, and his popularity went up.

A more likely candidate for MSM trumpetition is the line going around rightwing blogs, that the Obamas are narcissitic and stingy gifters. The English press made a big deal last month about how Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave Obama a pen mount made from the wood of a 19th century British anti-slaving warship when he visited Washington, and all he got in return was a lousy stack of American DVDs. So when it was learned that the president gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod, the blogs went into overdrive -- AmericanDigest.com dubbed the Obamas "the Clampetts," asking, "Were they born in a barn?"

Turns out the Queen requested the video iPod the president gave her, and he filled it with footage of her American visits and 40 showtunes; he also presented her with a rare songbook signed by Richard Rodgers, the Broadway composer who wrote one of the Queen's fave musicals, "Oklahoma!" But that won't stop the piss-ant dramas. When Gift-gate turned out to be just another murder of Vince Foster, some of the same folks started getting the vapors over Michelle patting the Queen's shoulders during their meet'n'greet. Nobody "touches" the Queen, for chrissakes, they mooned -- at least, until Buckingham Palace put out word that there was no violation of protocol, and the Queen thought Michelle was expressing a very natural "affection," which she shares.

Just because both these shots at the Obamas' legitimacy went foul so quickly doesn't mean the desperate will give up, unfortunately. After all, after weeks on the case, conventional-wisdom dispensing machine Mark Halperin was on Monday's Morning Joe still kvetching about how something or other was an example of Obama "doing too much." These people are as incapable of embarrassment as Inspector Clouseau.

And while the "does too much" line might seem exhausted by now, it's hot stuff in the digital basement over at Politico, where they're keeping it on life support by transferring it laterally, to Michelle. In a weekend piece that asked in the homepage subhead, "is [Michelle] doing too much?" Nia-Malika Henderson brooded that "it isn't yet clear whether her self-described core messages -- about military families, volunteerism, and helping working women balance work and family life -- are truly breaking through. Some wonder if she's spreading herself too thin to emerge in the public mind as a leading voice on those topics."

Using the time-dishonored "some say" device to suggest throngs of critics, Henderson produced only one, Mindy Sabella, a marketing director, who griped about Michelle's "branding": "She's in the kitchen at the White House, she's building houses, she's digging in the garden. It's all very nice, but I thought to myself, 'Why is she planting herbs?'"

I thought to myself, "Why is Ms. Sabella planting her bs?" Some contend, however, that it is Politico's Henderson who's doing the planting, i.e., getting an "expert" to provide quotes that fill Politico's buzz quota. (An internal memo advises writers to "reframe your reporting and analysis so people will say, 'POLITICO is reporting...' or 'The way POLITICO put it is...'") Wait, this just in: It was Henderson who got an "etiquette expert" from the Emily Post Institute to complain about Obama's iPod gift, too.

Anyway, these pseudostories -- naked memes, you might call them -- are more than just Republican talking points taken up by the media. What is fascinating about them is that their fakiness is so Emperor-wears-no-clothes-obvious. They're sprinkled around not so much to rile the masses up over a particular make-believe item, but to help keep the GOP base in a chronic, make-believe-ready state, one where they're unlikely to question any of the larger political lies. Like, that this is "the Obama recession."

But this time it's not working. Polls indicate that by huge margins people blame the banks and Bush for the collapsed economy, not Obama. Why do techniques that bedeviled the Clintons seem to slide off Obama so easily?

Well, for one thing, Obama won his election by the widest margin any new president has garnered since LBJ, and the country really wants a change.

Ultimately, though, it was the way the Clintonites governed, as a kind of Republican Lite, that opened them up to charges of hypocrisy and often split the Democratic coalition. The GOP may have lost the war to remove Bill from office, but they were definitely onto something about the Clintons, the way their immediate tactical advantage determined whatever they did -- from cutting welfare to deregulating the banks. There were just enough flanges sticking up on Clintonism to catch the force of that populist firehose.

That's just not so clear about Obama. So, no matter what happens, for the foreseeable future we will have the corporate-media Clouseaus saying, "Do you have a leesance for that minkey?" And most of us won't be able to understand a word.

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