Over the weekend, at his eponymous blog at The Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias warned of "the anti-Obama backlash brewing in the press" that was poised to hit "full stride." I remember wondering how that was going to take shape. It should have occurred to me: Paul Krugman was going to manufacture it!
In a long screed in this morning's New York Times, Krugman fulminates far and wide on the sins of the Obama camp. "I won't try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody." He believes that the Obama campaign is "dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. (Oh, really?) He finds it "saddening" how "many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of 'Clinton rules'" which is, "the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent."
Well, it's a good thing he's not faking evenhandedness here! Krugman makes a lot of bold claims, and then fails to substantiate every single one of them. As to his claim that "most of the venom" is emanating from the Obama camp, he provides not a single shred of evidence. He provides no example of the Obama supporters, evincing the behavior that "saddens" him. Frankly, he fails to pull off the whole "cult of personality" charge as well, but my wife, having earned a deep dislike of chanted mantras from her work at elementary school, finds the constant "Yes we can!" refrain deeply grating, so I'm happy to sympathize with Krugman on that point.
The only thing that passes for evidence in Krugman's piece is "the way the press covered Whitewater" back in the 1990s, and the recent remarks of David Shuster - who a) is not a member of the Obama camp, b) was punished swiftly for his remarks, and c) hardly represents the tip of the iceberg of unfair Clinton commentary on MSNBC, which d) has not escaped the attention of the press or similarly aggrieved protesters. Clinton has, admittedly, more than her fair share of nemeses among those who cover the news - Chris Matthews and Bill Kristol come most clearest to the mind. But by and large, their enmity was in place long before Barack Obama arrived on the scene and emerges independently of the Obama campaign's actions. What's more, should Obama quit the scene today, those who bare their anti-Clinton bias are not likely to ease up.
In short, a strong case can be made that Clinton's been roughly treated by the press. The case that cannot be made is that the Obama campaign is culpable for this treatment. The fact of the matter is, the Obama campaign has already been famously cited for the extent to which they avoid courting the press. Writing for the Washington Post, media critic Howard Kurtz complained only weeks ago that the Obama campaign "makes only spotty attempts to drive its preferred story lines in the press," and that is "aloof," "not obsessed with winning the news cycle," and not given to launching campaign "charm offensives." Ironically, the reason the Obama campaign gives for their tactics was the hard lesson they were dealt when an example of the "venom" Krugman describes leached into the press:
But ever since Obama was embarrassed by a staff memo that assailed Hillary Clinton as the senator from "Punjab" (over her contributions from Indian Americans), he has ordered his team to steer clear of pejorative attacks not based on public actions.
Kurtz, by the way, notes a point of comparison between the Obama and the Clinton campaigns. The Clinton camp "aggressively lobbies journalists around the clock." And this is how kindergarten essays make it into the news cycle. This is how questionnaires and false concerns over a candidate's liberalism fuel fervor one week while neutral observations of Ronald Reagan's presidency inflame false concerns over the same candidate's conservatism the next. This is how an A-list columnist - typically zealous about leaving no claim unsupported by evidence - very breezily and comfortably abandons those standards one morning to write a hit piece on those who've hit not. But none dare call this venom.