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Eric Boehlert

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From "Racist," to "Dick," to Heckling: How the Press Treats Obama

Posted: 06/21/2012 4:23 pm

Neil Munro's infamously brazen and boorish act of disrespect last week at the White House represented an eruption of frustration that's been building within the right-wing media during Obama's time as president. That a partisan, political player from the Daily Caller would shout angry comments at the president, interrupting him while he gave a formal statement in the Rose Garden, was simultaneously shocking and quite predictable.

Shocking because the behavior was more akin to Nixonian dirty tricks than it was to journalism.

Predictable though, because the GOP Noise Machine has for years depicted Obama as a lowly, un-American dictator/criminal; as someone unworthy of respect, which is exactly how Munro treated him. The only difference was that instead of doing that in the hothouse confines of Daily Caller's website where openly hating Obama in the expected norm, Munro lashed out in a very public setting.

Unfortunately, the casual tone of Oval Office disrespect that's become a hallmark of the right-wing media has found some pockets of acceptance, and even imitation, within the mainstream press. Yes, the press universally condemned the Daily Caller's classless attempt to upstage the president mid-sentence. But you can spot mainstream bouts of derogatory chatter that would have been unlikely when a Republican was in the White House. (Yes, it was Time's Mark Halperin who called Obama a "dick" on national television.)

Much like with the Clinton presidency, there has been a consuming effort by the conservative media (and the Republican Party) to delegitimize the current Democratic presidency. The difference this time, thanks to the shifting media landscape, is that right-wing name-calling has been ramped up and a runaway lack of civility is now worn like a badge of conservative honor.

Recall that following Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address, conservative media players responded to the president's policy-heavy speech by calling him a "grating," "flippant," "arrogant" "jerk" who's "cocky" and can't hide his "fake sincerity."

This, of course, after Glenn Beck strolled onto the set of Fox & Friends in July of 2009 and announced the President of the United States was a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people."

You probably can't even count the number of insults and smears that have been hurled at Obama by the GOP press, although Sally Kohn recently did a nice job of highlight some of the more vile broadsides:

"We're now governed by people who do not like the country" -- Rush Limbaugh re: President Obama
President Obama wants to "destroy capitalism" -- Hermann Cain
President Obama "certainly isn't one of us" -- John Hinderaker
President Obama "doesn't put America first" -- John Hawkins
Questioning President Obama's patriotism -- David Limbaugh
President Obama is "ruling" the US according to the dreams of his "philandering, inebriated African socialist" Kenyan father -- Dinesh D'Souza
President Obama was "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia" -- Donald Trump

And it's not just the fringe players, either. Supposedly serious pundits who work at places like the Wall Street Journal have also spent an inordinate amount of time calling the president names instead of actually critiquing his policies. Journal columnist Bret Stephen lashed out at the president (and former Harvard Law Review editor) by calling him "stupid," while Peggy Noonan has labeled Obama a "boring" "loser" and a "walking headache" who ought to just "shut up."

Erudite commentary this is not.

The problem is that that kind of purposeful noise pollution cannot be discounted in terms of how it affects the mainstream media's dealings with Obama.

Last week, for instance, The New York Times published a news article in which reporter Helene Cooper suggested Obama too often assigned blame to his predecessor [emphasis added]:

So Mr. Obama ends up falling back -- again and again -- on the Barack Obama Defensive Offensive -- which largely means, blame the Republicans. And while that strategy is not necessarily doomed to fail -- polls show far more Americans still blame President George W. Bush for the economic decline than blame Mr. Obama -- it also runs the danger of making Mr. Obama come across as a crybaby, not to mention opening him up to ridicule from the right.

So in a campaign analysis piece, the New York Times suggested the president comes across as a "crybaby." That, of course, is a highly offensive characterization and an unusually flippant choice of words to describe the President of the United States in the news hole of the daily. In fact, the insulting put down sounds like something you would hear on the Rush Limbaugh show or Fox & Friends, which spits out that kind of name-calling on a daily basis.

Or you would hear it on Sean Hannity's program.

In fact, the "crybaby" dart is one Sean Hannity has regularly thrown. Here's a medley of his "crybaby" attacks, used in exactly the same way the Times did; claiming Obama's out of line by assigning some blame to the previous administration.

The Times' "crybaby" crack wasn't an anomaly in terms of how some in the Beltway press treat Obama. Last month, Washington Post's Dana Milbank mocked Obama as the "first female president" who "brazenly flaunted his feminine mystique."

And last year Halperin, who is seen as something of a megaphone for the Beltway media elite, called out the president as a "dick." (Obama's sin? Being too partisan.) Previously, the pundit had claimed insiders considered Obama to be an "ignorant" "wimp" who's "incompetent and overwhelmed." Also, Obama and his team were "arrogant and clueless."

I don't remember those kind of nasty putdowns from Halperin during the Bush years. Back then, Halperin edited ABC News' The Note, a daily political tip sheet that read like a de facto in-house RNC newsletter, worshiping the supposedly super-savvy ways of Bush and his Republican colleagues.

And isn't the press guilty of encouraging bitter right-wing disrespect by helping to feed its phony smears, like the birther charade. Although dutifully skeptical of the claims regarding Obama's birthplace, that didn't stop the press from covering the story, often extensively, for years. By contrast, I don't recall people who fostered wild conspiracy theories about Bush being paraded around in the mainstream media in order to spread irresponsible claims. Or did I miss all the TV interviews with 9/11 truthers?

The Beltway press has also helped amplify disrespectful, right-wing attacks on First Lady Michelle Obama, by adopting its view that she be covered as a political player, in a way Laura Bush never was.

By repeatedly interrupting the president and yelling caustic questions at him during a nationally televised event, the Daily Caller's Munro reflected how little respect the conservative press now has for the office of the presidency. There's a danger the run-away contempt and casual taunting rubs off on the real press, too.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.

 

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