Obama gets more scrutiny

The mainstream media have finally fallen out of love

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In the annals of politics, there is no example more stark of a self-inflicted wound.

The Justice Department wanted to find out last year who told The Associated Press that a plot by al-Qaida in Yemen to blow up an airliner had been foiled, so it surreptitiously seized data on 20 or so AP phone lines.

The leak "put Americans at risk," said Attorney General Eric Holder. Not so. The story wasn't published until after CIA officials told AP national security concerns were "no longer an issue."

The administration was steamed because AP wouldn't agree to hold the story a day longer so the White House could announce the thwarting of the plot at a news conference, speculated The Washington Post.

A British-Saudi dual citizen went undercover to foil the plot, an operation in which Saudi and British intelligence were heavily involved even though the administration planned to take credit for it.

Mr. Holder has expressed little concern about leaks which make President Barack Obama look good. Last year "senior administration officials" leaked stories about how the Stuxnet computer worm had damaged Iran's nuclear weapons program and exposed the Pakistani physician who helped find the hideout of Osama bin Laden.

"These disclosures have seriously interfered with ongoing intelligence programs and have put at jeopardy our intelligence capability to act in the future," the ranking Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said in a rare joint press conference.

At their insistence, Mr. Holder appointed two special prosecutors to investigate the leaks, but as has been the rule whenever the Obama administration investigates itself, nothing has turned up.

The most important constituencies for a Democratic president are government employees, from whom he receives votes and campaign contributions, and the news media, which spins on his behalf. Election coverage on the broadcast television networks was difficult to distinguish from Democratic talking points.

But what has made journalists Mr. Obama's most valuable allies has been the unwillingness of most to report on the scandals swirling about his administration. If Americans had learned before the election what is being reported now about IRS abuses and Benghazi, the outcome might have been different.

The president's tendency to blame mid-level federal bureaucrats for what goes wrong in his administration does not sit well with mid-level federal bureaucrats, whose fondness for his policies stops short of willingness to go to prison for him. After former acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller blamed the IRS scandal on "rogue employees" in the Cincinnati field office, the "rogue employees" lawyered up. We were just following orders, they told the local media.

We wouldn't know what whistleblowers have to say if what they say isn't reported, which is why the cracks in the mainstream media's wall of silence pose a danger to the president greater than disaffection in the bureaucracy.

Journalists who never before uttered a critical word about his administration are outraged by the snooping on journalists. Journalists unmoved by arguably more serious abuses of power are furious, in part because this scandal affects them.

An adage of journalism is: "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." But many in the mainstream media saw President Obama as teenage groupies do a rock star. Now, after all the love they've showered upon him, journalists learn he's just not that into them.

"After treating President Barack Obama with uncommon deference throughout his first term, many members of the press finally may be realizing that this is a one-way street," said the Columbus Dispatch in an editorial.

Once hurt feelings subside, some who act now like women scorned will try again to be the president's Praetorian Guard. But it's hard to put the toothpaste back into the tube. And for others, the Kool-Aid has lost its flavor.

Republicans still can't expect a fair shake, but things will never again be as they were. Mr. Obama is accustomed to nothing but adulation from the news media. It'll be fascinating to see how he responds to even a little critical scrutiny.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).


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