Huffpost Media
Jason Linkins Headshot

SOTU: The Media's Malformed Narratives

Posted: Updated:

So, how is our mainstream media doing at entrenching its narratives ahead of tonight's State Of The Union address? Comically well, it seems! Let's take a look at how the New York Times's Jeff Zeleny sets up "OBAMA AT THE CROSSROADS":

As Mr. Obama navigates a crossroads of his presidency, a moment when he signals what lessons he has drawn from his first year in office, the public posture of the White House is that any shortcomings are the result of failing to explain effectively what they were doing -- and why. He will acknowledge making mistakes in pursuit of his agenda, aides said, but will not toss the agenda overboard in search of a more popular one.

I don't suppose there's ANY chance that the possibility might be raised that Obama's singular problem with voters is that he simply hasn't stuck to his guns, is there? Because to my mind, the whole failure to do things -- like fight for a health care reform deal that creates choice and competition for all of America's uninsured, dismantle the unitary executive state built in the time of Bush/Cheney, actively seek the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," extract concessions from Wall Street for nearly destroying the economy -- far outstrips the failure to explain things. The whole concept of "explaining things" is immeasurably easier when you're not attempting to "explain" why you aren't putting your efforts fully behind the campaign promises you made.

Zeleny maybe knows something to which the rest of us aren't privy, but it seems to me that the clearest sign that Obama is poised to "toss the agenda overboard in search of a more popular one" is that he's seemingly poised to announce plans to enact a spending freeze on all non-security/non-entitlement programs. Such a move essentially abandons the argument that health care reform is the means by which long-term structural federal deficits (to say nothing of individual household deficits) are reduced, in favor of an idea that's similar to one Senator John McCain floated during the 2008 presidential campaign.

And speaking of that spending freeze proposal, here's how the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Michael D. Shear set that up in their SOTU-preview piece:

Even Obama's idea to impose a three-year freeze on federal spending for most domestic programs -- a relatively modest proposal to save $250 billion over 10 years -- received a lukewarm response from some top Democrats.

"Even?" Maybe the "lukewarm response" can be attributed to the fact that it is an unrelentingly stupid idea? And that a key ingredient of its unrelenting stupidity is the far-too-modest $250 billion/ten years goal, cited by the reporters? That is, in addition to the fact that the proposed freeze entirely exempts defense spending, it also does not address killer long-term Medicare costs and places programs that lack the backing of powerful, moneyed interests in the crosshairs?

I'd be lukewarm, too, because, in addition to the very real harm a spending freeze could do to the economy and the unemployment crisis, this is a very unserious way of attacking long-term deficits. It signals that Obama has shifted away from leading, and plans to spend the next year pandering to deficit peacocks and hoping that his presidency will earn credit for activity, instead of achievement.

You remember that time John McCain suspended his presidential campaign to rush back to Washington, DC to stage a political mise-en-scene where he pretended to be hard at work saving the economy? Well, Obama's proposed spending freeze looks like that thing.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Around the Web

Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of ...

State Of The Union 2009: Obama's First Address To Congress Tuesday

State Of The Union: Obama To Address Congress In February

For Obama's State Of The Union, It's All About Jobs : NPR