Don't You Go Calling Obama an "ex-state senator," Hater!
I don't spend much time either reading Media Matters for America or defending the delicate honor of my previous employer, but this MM attack on L.A. Times political blogger Andrew Malcolm–with the typically nuanced Media Matters headline of "Why does the Los Angeles Times hate Obama?"–illustrates the perhaps inevitable degradations of partisan media watchdoggery when the watcher's team is in power.
MM accuses Malcolm of "childish name-calling," in which he deploys "insulting phrases," "childish put-downs," and "sneering, condescending language to describe the president of the United States." Malcolm "routinely disrespect[s] the president in a casually insulting way," using "oddly inappropriate and flippant language" to "portray the president as some kind of punk" and "treat the president as a two-bit hood." He is a "pretty shallow" and "amateurish" "Michelle Malkin wannabe," a purveyor of "relentlessly partisan, right-wing junk" who is "clearly unprofessional," "excruciatingly lame," "uniformly dishonest and sophomoric."
So what's the evidence for this "Obama-hating"? Here is MM's damning list of Malcolm's "insulting phrases":
* "the United States' Democratic Smoker-in-Chief"
* "the Real Good Talker"
* "the community organizer"
* "ex-state senator"
* "The Smoker"
* "the nation's top talker"
* "what's-his-name in the White House"
* "the ex-senator from Illinois"
Really, that's it. Certainly a much milder collection of words about the president of the United States than what Media Matters used to characterize the blogger making them.
And do click on those links, too: The "ex-senator from Illinois" description, in addition to being (like many on this list) 100% factually accurate, was in a blog post about…Obama's comments contrasting famed Illinois basketball player Michael Jordan with L.A.'s Kobe Bryant. "What's-his-name" was in a post about how voters were punishing incumbents from both parties and rejecting the president's endorsements. The second "Smoker-in-Chief" reference was in the context of a reportedly Obama-supported health care reform provision "to develop a new national standard for restaurant menus."
None of which is to say that Malcolm doesn't use cheeky language and (shudder) stabs at humor to knock politicians down a peg–he does, constantly; that's part of his basic shtick. But if that list above amounts to "hate," then what modifiers do we have left to describe presidential assessments by Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and Hunter S. Thompson, to say nothing of such lesser writers as Molly Ivins, Garrison Keillor, and Nicholson Baker?
Media Matters' Eric Boehlert then duct-tapes this "please kick me" sign onto his rumpus:
And I don't even have to do a Google search to know for a fact that when President Bush was in office, there was nobody on staff at the Times, and certainly nobody writing off the opinion pages, who was allowed to so casually insult the office of the presidency on a regular basis.
As the Internet kidz like to say, let me Google that for you. There'll you see a Bush-era L.A. Times columnist–one of the most consistently popular among the paper's stable at the time–who used these phrases to describe Obama's predecessor:
* "Bubble Boy"
* "willfully blind"
* "distracted and incompetent"
* "homegrown authoritarian"
* "a bad dream, a shameful, inexplicable interlude in American history"
* enabler of "the so-called Big Lie theory of political propaganda, articulated most infamously by Adolf Hitler."
* "if you dilute civilian control of the military, you end up with fascism or a Latin American-style military junta….we're already well on the way to having that kind of regime."
* "being a citizen in George W. Bush's America is like being a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver."
* "I don't hate George Bush. But I sure hate what he's done to my country."
Incidentally, that columnist above, Rosa Brooks, has since gone on to take a job in Obama's Pentagon.
Media Matters would do well to heed a point Brooks made in that last linked column about accusations of Bush-hatred: "we need to stop letting the far right get away with dismissing all criticism of the Bush administration as irrational 'hatred.'" The same principle applies when the teams flip.
And I might append a further point: In the world of opinion journalism (and basic citizenry), there's nothing inherently wrong with hating on the most powerful person in the world, or using juvenile phrases like "George W. Jackass." What matters (or what should) is the quality of the critique. I would hate to live in a world where calling the American president an "ex-state senator" is far more beyond the pale than asserting, based partly on that evidence, that an entire newspaper, filled with very different humans with very different points of view, "hates" the president.