Last winter, I asked a national political correspondent I know about the media and Barack Obama - was it really as far in the tank for lanky Illinois Senator as it appeared to be? Yeah, he said. And the reason was simple: "Obama is a growth industry."
With margins for media companies crashing into the cold, ice-laden sea of this recession-battered January, that answer has never seemed more accurate. The new President and his broad promise is one of the lone warm spots on the frozen American tundra, a golden glow of a rosy history-in-the-making hearthfire that offers - dare I say it - hope amidst the bankruptcies and collapsing consumer advertising revenues and dire predictions of death for newspapers and second-rate purgatory for national television proprietors.
It's all so obvious and small. The simple pageant of a peaceful transition of power in the United States doesn't need any tarting up. The inauguration of the first African-American man speaks for itself. And President Obama's words will almost certainly stand on their own.
Endless, pointless segments with Doris Kearns Goodwin comparing the new President to Abraham Lincoln simply diminish every person involved (including dopes like me who watch this dreck on television). A phony back-to-the-future train trip from Philadelphia to Washington and its wall-to-wall "coverage" by partying "reporters" Twittering and simpering like middle school kids at their first co-ed dance did no one any good. Obama has already been living in DC since his Christmas vacation - as Craig Crawford noted: "If Lincoln had done what Obama did - embrace the memory of past
presidents by emulating their mode of transportation - Old Abe would
have already been in Washington, but then boarded a train to
Philadelphia, returning on a horse." It was strained, overwrought image-making - a facsimile arrival in the nation's capital - for a brilliant modern politician who simply doesn't need that kind of optics creation.
Everywhere, it seems, history is breaking out - and you can pick yourself up a bit of it at bargain prices. Today's Daily News had not one but two special sections devoted to instant history. "Inside: Our 32-Page Full-Color Inauguration Special Section Plus Framable Picture." Does "framable" rhyme with flammable? The special section pushed "museum-quality color prints" that "capture all the excitement, emotion and history" - there's that word again - of the 2008 campaign. For 89 smackers you can get a framed Obama front page for your wall. And for $33, you can pre-order all the issues of the News that will cover "this historic moment" - just in case you can't make it to the newsstand in the next week.
But that's just low-brow tabloid stuff, right? Wrong. Sure, the New York Times editorial staff feels stiffed by the new administration (no special interview! no chance for a presidential walk-through and staff ovation!) but it's selling off of President Obama 24/7 - indeed, the NYT's pre-order of special editions is even more cheesy:
The set includes another historic Times newspaper, the Nov. 5, 2008, final edition announcing Obama's election, plus a color 8" x 10" Obama photo by Times photographer Damon Winter, available only through this special offer.
Also receive a collectible inauguration lapel pin, designed exclusively for The Times by illustrator Christoph Niemann.
The newspapers come in acid-free, archival envelopes and are shipped FLAT in a cardboard box to protect them during transit.
The Times has an entire Obama store up on its website, where the iconic "Catching a Plane" photo will set you back $199 to $1,129, depending on size and framing options. (The lesser-known "Scarfing a Chili Dog" is a much better bargain). Of course, you can grab a set of two "Obama Victory Coffee Mugs" for a mere $24.95.
CNN.com urges web visitors to head for its "Inaugural Storefront" where you can choose from "some of the most historic shirts money can buy," officially endorsed journalistic casualware from the best political team in television with slogans - er, headlines - like "Obama inspires historic victory." And yeah, the peacock ain't too proud to beg, either. You won't be surprised to learn that NBC News is offering "Yes We Can!" the story of Barack Obama. And they really mean the "We" part.
Why is the media crowding the story so much? Why can't reporters and talking heads just let it unfold? It almost feels like mass hysteria, Diana-style - the confluence of a real, major story with the oncoming death of an old media model. The BBC's Katty Kay captures a bit of the rush-to-history insanity in her Daily Beast post, arguing that America - and the new administration - deserve better:
There is a more serious problem with treating Barack Obama as an elected monarch; one that affects us journalists, in particular. Put a man on a pedestal and suddenly it's hard for the press to drag him through the political wringer. It happened in 2003 in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and risks happening again.
In Britain, we invest the Queen with our ceremonial hopes which leaves us free to treat our prime minister as exactly what he is--an elected official, paid for by the taxpayers, and serving at the people's will.
John Cole was as relentlessly pro-Obama as any blogger over the last year, but even he is a bit put off by all the Faux Drama and the media's exhortation to appreciate history.
I know I will get flamed mercilessly for this, and will be told that I simply don't understand the historical significance, that I should just shut up because I voted for Bush and let people have their day, that my judgment is terrible and I should not be trusted, that I am just being harsh on Obama because I feel hoodwinked by Bush and won't get fooled again, and blah blah blah, but the stuff this weekend feels like it has been over-the-top.
I can't tell if it is just my general lack of enthusiasm for crowds, but there just seems to be a bit of unseemly gushing- this feels like Princess Di or something. I realize that the rise of cable news and 24/7 coverage means that it is going to be either the inauguration or some kidnapped blonde teenager, but I don't know- it just seems excessive.
Again, I am not trying to downplay the historical significance of this, as several strands of history are all converging on Tuesday for a really amazing occasion. Nor am I unaware how elated we all are that Bush is leaving (and considering I played a role in getting Bush elected, I am thrilled that mistake is being pushed off center stage). And, again, I had no problem with Obama speaking in Europe, and never got my knickers in a twist about the columns at the inauguration, but this whistlestop tour, with all the mini events and the fawning media just seems to me to be too much. As low-key as Obama normally is, I am surprised he signed on to it all.
I, for one, will be locked on to the television at midday on Tuesday, watching with my wife and daughter as an important and, yes, thrilling political transition reaches its completion. But this story stands on its own merits, and I won't want the words and plain, pure images to be overshadowed and diminished by hucksterish hype. And I doubt I'm alone in wishing aloud for a little less pomp and a little more circumstance.