Barack Obama’s address at the Democrat National Zoom Festival last week was a stark reminder to practitioners of our once noble craft that it was he who sucked the life out of modern journalism.
Yes, Obama clipped Anderson Cooper. He buffooned Wolf “Baghdad” Blitzer. He blathered Dan Rather and fogged Brian Williams' memory even more than imaginary Iraqi gunfire.
Obama – the bitter reflection of the nation's unrequited hope that a black president might be a healing tonic for the ails of the country's black community, bottled up journalism in the United States in eight short years and left it to rot like a tuna salad on whole wheat left in a Ziplock bag on the dash of your car in July.
Yet, there he was at the Democrats' Covid convention, his historically anointed socialist sheen still luminescent against the stark and bitter truth that it was he, as much as 304 electoral votes, who in 2016 unleashed Donald Trump on a Pearl Harbor-esque, over confident and substance-starved American Left. It was he whose haughty derision for American exceptionalism made the words of Donald Trump resonate with such passion in the pool halls, farm coops, union halls and barbershops of our country. Yet liable as he is for the hell Democrats have lived for nearly four years, he is still reserved a seat at their royal table.
Were it any other organization, he would spend his future in exile for the sin he committed against them. Obama brought the wrath of Trump on the Democrats, but his malfeasance against the nation as a whole and arguably the world in the destruction of journalism is a far higher crime.
Not just through his administration’s record denial of requests under the Freedom of Information Act; not just his use of the Espionage Act to attack whistleblowers who fed tips to reporters; Obama changed the face of journalism as the vanguard of a new phenomena in the American press – the untouchable topic.
From the minute his Italian leather-soled shoes hit the concrete steps of the Old State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois, in 2007 to announce his candidacy, his status as untouchable was etched into political stone. Any second-guessing of him by the press couldn’t be legitimate, because it was racist. It was an automatic blank check to make stupid decisions as president that benefited the Iranian Mullahs, the Russians in Crimea and ISIS in Syria with never more than a twitch from the mainstream media. Obama was the kryptonite to press criticism.
Now American journalism spends more time tip-toeing around every politically correct topic and choosing coverage angles and narratives in advance of interviews than it spends in hair and makeup. An entire host of taboo topics followed Obama into the circled wagons of American press privilege.
Obama’s legacy reaches clear to Kansas, where Democrat Governor Laura Kelly enjoys her own Lethal Weapon 2-style ‘diplomatic immunity’ from press criticism even after her statewide shutdown canceled the state’s economy and her mask mandate showed no impact on the virus. It is fallout from the Obama experience that mainstream media or anyone else for that matter can’t critique the performance of a Democrat governor, much less a female one.
But we remember the good old days, when Dena Sattler, then publisher of the Garden City Telegram, led the daily media tar and feathering charge against Gov. Sam Brownback. Sattler couldn’t write so much as a grocery list without blaming Brownback and state Republicans for the spots on her bananas. But her sheering voice of gubernatorial dissent has now faded along with the rest of that old liberal Kansas chorus. Without Brownback to disparage anymore, Sattler left the paper and is now a staffer in Gov. Kelly’s public affairs office.
This dynamic is why we see no condemnation of Black Lives Matter for its Marxist roots, no judgment of rioters in the destruction of American cities, no notice that Democrats spent four nights talking about how much they hate Donald Trump, but outlined not a single policy or initiative which could be discussed, analyzed and evaluated.
It is a delicate tight rope the modern national journalist must negotiate. The fall on either side risks “cancellation” by social media, the exodus of customers, sponsors and advertisers, and the end of careers should they stray toward the now Unholy Grail of objectivity.
The result has been a crippled press and an audience driven to the addictive comfort of an accommodating but scurrilously deceptive social media. Obama’s damage cannot be undone.
– Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.