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The White House Revolving Door By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 26, 2008


It is no secret that the mainstream press has long favored Democratic candidates; a widely reported poll showing that journalists voted for Kerry over Bush by a margin of 68 percent to 25 percent in the 2004 election is just one of many similar studies dating as far back as 1964. Barack Obama’s campaign, however, set a new standard for media favoritism. So slanted was the coverage toward the Illinois Senator that a July 2008 Rasmussen Reports survey found that 49 percent of likely voters believed reporters would favor Obama in their campaign coverage over his Republican rival John McCain. The latest chapter in the media’s love affair with Obama comes as prominent journalists, no longer content to cheer the president-elect from the sidelines, have decided to join his administration.

Most recent is the case of TIME’s James Carney, who is leaving the magazine after 20 years to serve as Vice President Joe Biden's communications director. The well-connected Carney is a regular guest on Washington’s Sunday shows, and is married to Claire Shipman, the senior Washington correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America. Meanwhile, ABC’s Linda Douglass, who signed on as Obama’s campaign spokesperson in May of this year, is now on his Inaugural Committee. An unnamed Democratic official admitted to Politico when the news broke, “There are those on the right who will see this as the embodiment of their assertions about the media and Obama, and this is just making it official.”

One of “those on the right” is Tim Graham. The director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, Graham saw Carney’s move as another “example of the revolving door between journalism and Democratic politics.” “James Carney at TIME magazine has been a very traditional TIME magazine liberal, so it’s not a stretch for him to move over into working for Joe Biden,” Graham remarked. “This is a man who has mocked, for example, Congressman Dan Burton [R-Indiana] as a ‘Torquemada’ figure. He is not someone who's hesitated from slamming conservatives in the pages of TIME magazine.”

Indeed, Carney and Douglass are merely the latest examples of the revolving door between the press and Democratic politics. Hardball host Chris Matthews served as a top aide for Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill; George Stephanopoulos parlayed his years as President Bill Clinton’s communications director into a career as an ABC news political correspondent; and the late Tim Russert began his career as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s chief of staff before going on to host Meet the Press.

The media watchdog site NewsBusters has wittily chronicled the “revolving door” phenomenon for years, along with the predictable media denials that such a “door” actually exists. For instance, NewsBusters caught PBS’s Gwen Ifill blithely dismissing the phenomenon in spite of all evidence to the contrary – including evidence she herself offered up. Just after the Carney and Douglass appointments were announced, Ifill took part in an internet chat at Washingtonpost.com that included the following exchange:

Washington, D.C.: What do you think about TIME's Jay Carney going over to the administration to work for Biden? Linda Douglass "crossed over" to go work for Obama. What's she going to do in the new White House? And why do major news figures like these two leave journalism for political jobs?

Gwen Ifill: I wouldn't be too quick to lump everyone's ambitions and callings together with one glib explanation. There has always been crossover – more often the other way. Remember, Diane Sawyer worked in the Nixon White House. Pierre Salinger. William Safire. I could go on.

Ifill’s examples were not exactly compelling. As NewsBusters points out, Pierre Salinger is most famous for serving as John F. Kennedy’s press secretary, and his boss was certainly no Republican. Besides, Ifill herself is a glaring example of the rapidly fading line between credible journalist and partisan promoter. Even as she moderated this year’s vice presidential debate, it was revealed that Ifill herself had written a pro-Obama book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Her appointment as moderator was so controversial that even the reliably liberal Saturday Night Live mocked Ifill for not recusing herself.

Like Ifill, TIME’s James Carney likely considers himself a model of journalistic objectivity. A review of his writing, however, tells a different tale. Throughout the campaign, Carney’s coverage of John McCain was less than flattering. To cite just one example, which combines editorial sloppiness with barely concealed glee, Carney’s June 4 article about McCain mentions the GOP candidate’s age – 72 – not once but twice in the space of a couple of sentences, including the lede. The not-so-rhetorical questions that begin Carney’s article are fairly revealing, too, and the condescending tone continues throughout:

“Can he win the White House in a year when his party is in widespread ill repute, and is led by the most unpopular incumbent President in the history of polling? And most importantly, can he do it against the youthful, multi-ethnic, charm-infused, walking, talking embodiment of change that is his Democratic opponent?”

By contrast, Carney could scarcely contain his enthusiasm for Obama. For example, writing about Obama’s instantly forgettable and unquotable “landmark” speech about race, Carney gushed that this was “an artfully reasoned treatise on race and rancor in America, the most memorable speech delivered by any candidate in this campaign and one that has earned Obama comparisons to Lincoln, Kennedy and King.” Carney further gushed:

“Politicians don't give speeches like the one Barack Obama delivered this morning at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Certainly presidential candidates facing the biggest crisis of their campaigns don't… What they don't do is give a speech analyzing the problem and telling Americans that it's actually more complicated than what they believed. They manifestly do not denounce the offensive comments that stirred up the trouble to begin with and then tell Americans to grow up and deal with the fact that those same remarks, however wrong and offensive, are an elemental part of who they are, and who we are.”

Carney’s articles about Obama are brimming with snide putdowns of “average” Americans like those quoted above. One choice bit of condescension popped up in a typical March dispatch. “By asking voters to understand the context of Wright's anger, though, Obama is counting on voters to accept nuance in an arena that almost always rewards simplicity over complexity,” Carney lectured. “Explicitly asking Americans to grapple with racial divisions and then transcend them — that's a bolder, riskier request.” One could be forgiven for concluding that Carney thinks most of his fellow citizens are too lazy, stupid and unsophisticated to recognize Obama’s greatness as clearly as he does. This makes Carney an interesting choice to work for the new Vice-President, who has been known to brag (inaccurately) about his high IQ and college grades.

As for ABC’s Linda Douglass, her mid-campaign switch from reporter to Obama campaign flack didn’t sit well with venerable FOX News correspondent Chris Wallace, who told one interviewer, “I don’t have a problem with somebody doing it, but I do have a problem if they’ve been talking as objective journalists while secretly negotiating to join [one side or another] as a campaign mouthpiece.”

Not that Douglass’s true allegiance to Barack Obama was ever more than an open secret. She admitted in a June interview with Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post that she “always” had “fundamental differences” with John McCain and believes “reporters are constantly struggling with themselves to suppress their own opinions.” Revealingly, when asked to provide proof of her own professional objectivity, Douglass could only offer the possibly biased and dubious word of... other journalists, telling Kurtz “It was no secret to the reporters around me that I have Democratic-leaning views. But they said I was always fair.”

Once again, NewsBusters has been faithfully recording Douglass’s Democratic bias. The watchdog site noted that “Weeks before Linda Douglass announced she would be jumping aboard the Barack Obama presidential campaign as a senior strategist, the former CBS News and ABC News Washington correspondent was already aiding the Obama campaign. Back on the May 4 Reliable Sources on CNN, for instance, she became defensive: ‘I hate to keep being in the position of defending Barack Obama...’ Yet that's exactly what she did on a panel with Amy Holmes and Joan Walsh. On that Sunday, the weekend after Obama held a press conference to denounce Jeremiah Wright, she pronounced media attention on Wright to have ‘been too much’...”

Linda Douglass admitted that she found going to work for Barack Obama to be “really liberating.” No doubt many other journalists would feel the same way. Making the switch to political life would allow them to dispense with the pretense of objectivity that they seldom honor as working journalists.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.


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