Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Look, it’s not all about the election

In Posts on September 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

After reading this BBC article reporting on a speech by President Obama on Israel, I felt a familiar frustration at the cynicism of mainstream political reporting, and particularly journalists’ tendency to ascribe every single one of Obama’s actions to a presidential election that remains well over a year away. (Just to illustrate the point, here’s the first mainstream newspaper article I found with a Google search for “Obama economy”; its first paragraph links Obama’s appointment of an economic advisor to the election.)

The BBC article argues that Obama has changed his tone on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to defuse Republican candidates’ narrative that he has “thrown Israel under the bus.” Now listen to the excerpt from the speech embedded toward the top of the page. As usual with President Obama, I found it fair, accurate, and humane. Obviously, Obama is well aware of the domestic politics surrounding the situation; but should the media be in the habit of cheapening his motivations so thoroughly? Is there any chance that Obama’s reelection strategy is simply to do the right thing and improve people’s lives? After all, he is the President—might he actually be trying to do the job we elected him for?

I think political reporting is so cynical partly because cynicism is almost the only kind of analysis mainstream reporters are allowed to add to the raw facts: being nominally objective, they can’t directly support or criticize either side of a political dispute, but they are allowed to cast aspersions. I also think cynicism—particularly around politics—is a festering cultural wound inflicted mostly by Nixon, at least in the US. As for how it ended up at the BBC, maybe we exported it; or maybe they have their own reasons. And, of course, it is true that politicians must act strategically. But in this case, and on Obama’s attempts to fix the economy, I mean, c’mon.