DNC 2012: Press puts a new spin on Obama
By: Dylan Byers
September 3, 2012 03:18 PM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For over a year now, the political press has been writing the ever-evolving book on Mitt Romney. But as the Democratic National Convention gets under way in Charlotte, major media outlets are sending President Barack Obama through the spin cycle, lobbing four high-profile bombs at the incumbent in a single holiday weekend.
The New York Times ran a front-page piece Monday with the unmistakable subtext that Obama is a hyper-competitive egotist who often is not as good as he thinks he is at endeavors ranging from politics to poker.
The Washington Post noted the continued controversy over Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line, and how the clumsy remark continues to leave him vulnerable to criticism that he doesn’t understand free enterprise.
The Huffington Post argued that, for all his promises of a new kind of politics, Obama has “played the same old game.”
And POLITICO weighed in with an unflattering portrait of Obama as the conventional president — “relentlessly familiar” in his governing style, politically uncreative and culturally uninspiring.
The convergence of skeptical pieces, all of which suggest Obama has failed to live up to the mythic expectations he set for himself in 2008, signal that Obama may be facing unprecedented media headwinds just as the nation’s voters are really tuning in to the 2012 campaign.
News organizations always drop major biographical or analytical pieces on presidential nominees shortly before their respective convention — they did the same for Romney prior to Tampa. But for Romney, the pre-convention coverage was in keeping with a narrative — Romney’s Mormonism, his tenure at Bain Capital, and his struggle to define himself — that has filled front pages for months. These recent pieces on Obama, though they reflect longstanding sentiments, feel like a sudden, unexpected rebuke of the more favorable coverage given to the junior senator from Illinois four years ago in Denver.
Republicans, as expected, welcome the coverage: “The media will always come back to the facts, and the fact is: President Obama is in love with politics and not in love with governing,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told POLITICO. “He doesn’t like making sausage, he doesn’t like working with the other side and the results are he didn’t get the job done and the economy is in the basement.”
“The [papers] would look very unreasonable if they came forward and weren’t honest,” he added. “They could choose to be honest and admit things are terrible or they could run the risk of losing their credibility.”
But the Obama campaign dismisses the suggestion that the weekend’s onslaught is a departure from the norm.
“As one of the people who picked up the phone during the last campaign when the press combed through every vote the president ever made and class he ever taught, I can tell you from personal experience it’s a myth that we enjoyed some sort of honeymoon wave of coverage in 2008,” Ben LaBolt, the press secretary for Obama’s campaign, told POLITICO. “If we did, I’m still waiting for my mai tai. We’ve never been in the business of whining about tough coverage — that’s what you should expect when you’re running for president.”
GOP strategist Susan Del Percio, meanwhile, warned against reading too much into the recent critical coverage.
“I doubt that the collective press has decided to turn on the president,” she told POLITICO. “But they have to mention the problems he has faced going into the convention since most of their convention coverage will be about the positive speeches, etc.
“Do not expect the media outlets mentioned to do an about-face on the president or start a Gov. Romney lovefest.”
Still, it was hard to wake up Labor Day morning, read a newspaper (or website), and not feel the result of four years in which the national media has grown steadily disenchanted with Obama for failing to fulfill the promise of a transcendental presidency.
POLITICO’s John Harris and Jonathan Martin charge Obama with failing to present a coherent policy platform, failing to use his pulpit in creative ways and failing to reintroduce JFK-level power and glamour to the White House.
The New York Times’s Jodi Kantor writes that Obama has “turned out to be a voraciously competitive perfectionist” whose “quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness,” and adds that “he tends to overestimate his capabilities.”
“Just a few months before the election, Obama is suffering from an engagement gap,” The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Sam Stein write. “Obama is no longer regarded by the majority of voters as a constructive reformer.”
Three days of convention coverage could reverse the damage done by these stories, some of which are already somewhat diminished by arriving on the Labor Day holiday. After all, now that the GOP nominee himself has spoken — not to mention Clint Eastwood — who remembers how The New York Times portrayed Romney last Monday?
But with a monthly jobs report due Friday that could rekindle the disappointer-in-chief narrative, it is just as likely that the ideas put forth today could sustain themselves through the final two months of the campaign. In order to overcome it, Obama will need to provide a powerful counter narrative.
That is, he will need to recreate Denver — and hope the press falls in love with him a second time.