Cheerleaders for the Revolution

Network Coverage of Barack Obama's First 100 Days

Conclusion: Media Watchdogs Now Obama's Lapdogs

At the end of President Obama’s first 100 days, all three evening newscasts celebrated the occasion. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie suggested the 100-day milestone “is the kind of thing his aides say is one of those fake holidays that journalists make up,” although she added how Obama “graded his own performance” at a town hall meeting — “[He] said he was pleased, but not satisfied with the progress of his administration.”

The CBS Evening News devoted most of their newscast to touting Obama’s achievements. “One of the chief accomplishments of President Obama’s first 100 days is getting that economic stimulus bill through Congress,” anchor Katie Couric cheered. “President Obama’s been on a global charm offensive in his first 100 days,” echoed foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

“I’ll tell you this,” Bob Schieffer told Couric, “if the President’s popularity stays as high as it is right now, you’re going to see him continue to push big.”

Over on ABC, George Stephanopoulos touted Obama’s first 100 days as “shock and awe on the domestic front.” He suggested that Obama’s “number one accomplishment has been to inspire a sense of direction in the country,” parroting the spin of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who was at that moment being interviewed by Couric over on CBS.

“What’s your greatest accomplishment?” Couric wondered. “We’ve helped give America that sense of confidence again, that we can meet these challenges and this country is headed, finally, in the right direction,” Emanuel replied.

2007-02-02-PBS-IW-ThomasWhen the White House and the media are saying exactly the same thing, that’s a clue that journalists are failing to act as a real check on those in power. A little over two years ago, during the debate about the Bush administration’s Iraq surge, Newsweek reporter Evan Thomas was asked if the media were “bashing the President unfairly?”

“Well, our job is to bash the President,” Thomas replied. “That’s what we do.”

Not anymore, apparently. In his first 100 days in office, President Obama has pushed an audaciously liberal policy agenda. If enacted, his policies would have radical consequences for America for years, perhaps decades. With Democrats enjoying monopoly control of the House and Senate, the networks and the rest of the media have the responsibility to scrutinize those policies, and give audiences both sides of the story — not just the perspective of a powerful Chief Executive.

Yet in the first 100 days, network coverage endorsed every one of Obama’s major policies: the stimulus, the budget, the bank bailout, the auto bailout, the mortgage bailout, foreign policy, the “War on Terror,” the environment, embryonic stem cell research, and on and on. Such promotional coverage of major policies is not part of the normal “honeymoon” that exists between journalists and new Presidents. Rather, it is a symptom of how few network reporters evidently see their professional role as that of adversary to whomever is in the White House.

The longstanding liberalism of network reporters made them aggressive adversaries of the Bush White House and other Republican administrations. The evidence from President Obama’s first 100 days is that that liberal mindset has crippled reporters’ ability to be effective watchdogs on behalf of the public. Instead, the once-fierce media watchdogs have become Barack Obama’s drooling, tail-wagging lapdogs.