Is Obama 'Insuring' Softball Questions?
There is widespread acceptance of the proposition that the mainstream media is fully in the tank for Barack Obama, and all his vague but pleasant-sounding initiatives.
Even when you discount the fact that the president generally makes himself unavailable to take questions from the media in the first place, and carefully pre-selects those few from whom he actually does take questions, this sycophancy is not completely understandable.
For many journalists (both broadcast and the more primitive paper-and-ink types) who were inspired to get into that business by the dogged determination of Woodward and Bernstein, a simple acceptance of presidential platitudes and soaring phrases that illuminate complete nonsense seems impossible.
Or maybe it's not impossible.
The spate of "phony" scandals swirling around Washington right now must raise a few eyebrows, even among the apparently jaded members of the journalist class. What began as an attack on the Tea Parties and other right-of-center (and occasionally far-right-of-center) organizations by the IRS has spread to allegations of involvement by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for the same purpose, and there are now rumblings of some involvement in the same "phony" scandal by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And that's only one of this administration's "phony" scandals. Ultimately, each of these organizations reports to the president, either directly or indirectly.
One has to wonder, though: just how many government agencies, departments, commissions, administrations, boards, bureaus, offices, or whatever does it take before a "phony" scandal becomes a "real" scandal? Is it three or more? Or do scandals move along a sliding scale? Might a scandal progress from a "phony" scandal to a "faux" scandal, to an "ersatz" scandal, to an "artificial" scandal before it finally becomes a "real" scandal?
Then there is the "phony" Department of Justice (DoJ) scandal that involves the wiretapping (or meta-data collection or whatever this invasion of privacy should most accurately be called) of the Associated Press and FOX News reporter James Rosen and Rosen's parents.
To get a judge to issue a warrant approving this activity, the DoJ even went so far as to swear to a judge that Mr. Rosen was effectively an unindicted co-conspirator under the 1917 Espionage Act. These invalid assertions were made by the DoJ and the main investigative arm of the DoJ, the FBI. Again, each of these organizations report to the president, either directly or indirectly.
Of course, there is the ever-popular "phony" Fast and Furious scandal, with the DoJ playing a central role once again, but apparently co-starring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Coincidentally, both the DoJ and DHS report directly to the president.
The deaths of four brave Americans during the embarrassing fiasco in Benghazi have the fingerprints of the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. It is apparently kismet that all three of these government agencies report directly to the president.
So what do these scandals, "phony" or otherwise, have to do with the softball questions that leave the president almost completely unexamined by the media? Well, there is one other agency that the president indirectly controls -- the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That control is exercised by selecting commissioners for the FCC, including such people as Mark Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd is the chief diversity officer for the FCC. The FCC has significant impact on the licensing of radio and television stations. Mr. Lloyd, as a proponent of diversity, can have a disproportionate impact on who is allowed to broadcast, encouraging women and other minority groups to challenge existing firms who are current license holders over racial and gender diversity, as well as content.
Mr. Lloyd, as the head of the Leadership Council for Civil Rights, participated in a panel discussion and said (emphasis supplied):
In Venezuela, with Chavez, is really an incredible revolution - a democratic revolution. To begin to put in place things that are going to have an impact on the people of Venezuela. The property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela rebelled - worked, frankly, with folks here in the U.S. government - worked to oust him. But he came back with another revolution, and then Chavez began to take very seriously the media in his country.
Wikipedia, not often accused of right-wing extremism, offers this initial paragraph in its examination of Hugo Chávez's relationship with the media in his nation:
Although the freedom of the press was mentioned by two key clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela, in 2008, Human Rights Watch criticized Chávez for engaging in "often discriminatory policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression." Freedom House listed Venezuela's press as being "Not Free" in its 2011 Map of Press Freedom, noting that "[t]he gradual erosion of press freedom in Venezuela continued in 2010." Reporters Without Borders criticized the Chávez administration for "steadily silencing its critics". In the group's 2009 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders noted that "Venezuela is now among the region's worst press freedom offenders."
So the FCC has an officer who apparently admires the man who tightly clamped down on journalistic freedom as having led "an incredible revolution." Why would anyone in his position, in a nation whose Constitution dictates in the First Amendment that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," claim that such a man is admirable unless he also admired, and desired to emulate, the control that Chávez had over the media?
American media executives, and American journalists, might have political positions with which we cannot agree, and they might not even appear sensible, but for the most part, they are still intelligent people. And they remember a lot of what they hear or read.
They see how this administration has approached dealing with those it might view as "enemies." They have heard how a president's choice for the FCC views control of the media. They actually know James Rosen, and they know he was under the potential for indictment under the 1917 Espionage Act. And the media, of all political stripes, are, in the end, for-profit enterprises. Any governmental interference, or excessive "investigation" in the style of the IRS scandal, would be of potentially lethal in terms of profit.
Knowing this and seeing how the administration has intimidated and damaged the goals of organizations such as the Tea Parties, would any rational person not see the potential for harm to himself and his own organization? The message has been delivered. Oppose this administration at your own risk. This is commonly known as intimidation.
With 80,000 pages of federal laws, rules, and regulations, there is an endless array of charges that can be brought against anyone. Even frivolous charges, even with charges of prosecutorial misconduct being leveled for bringing a case in the first place, the defendants would be forced to spend enormous amounts of money to defend themselves, plus having to know that part of their taxes are being used to prosecute them in the first place.
So perhaps we should view these media "softball" questions as a pre-emptive defense position. That would be the most charitable view we could take. Otherwise, we would have to conclude that the mainstream media are acting in collusion with the administration to undermine the Constitution of the United States of America.
In one view, they're showing themselves to be weaklings. The other, treasonous. But no heroes can be seen, no matter what the answer might be.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller and a two-tour Vietnam veteran. He writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy, and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.