Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

For Obama, it's no more Mr. Nice Media

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
Officials in the Obama administration's Internal Revenue Service came under fire after revelations that workers in its Cincinnati office targeted for extra scrutiny tea party and conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Officials in the Obama administration's Internal Revenue Service came under fire after revelations that workers in its Cincinnati office targeted for extra scrutiny tea party and conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.
HIDE CAPTION
IRS targeting | 2013
Benghazi | 2012
Iraq War | 2003
CIA/Plame leak | 2003
Monica Lewinsky | 1998
Iran/Contra pardons | 1992
Iran-Contra | 1986
Iran hostage crisis | 1979
Watergate pardons | 1974
Watergate | 1974
Agnew resigns | 1973
Pentagon Papers | 1971
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: AP phone records search, other stories have turned press on Obama
  • He says attention isn't just out of press self-interest; Obama's stuck in number of scandals
  • He says that for the first time, press started to think Obama misled them
  • Kurtz: GOP may overreach to damage Obama; still, scandal could drown out governing

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

(CNN) -- The press has turned on President Obama with a vengeance.

Suddenly, the White House briefing room is filled with confrontational questions. Suddenly, the news pages are ablaze with scandal, and the commentators -- even some of the president's usual defenders -- are bemoaning his shortcomings. Suddenly, Obama isn't getting the benefit of the doubt.

According to Obama's longtime detractors, the denizens of the fourth estate are finally climbing out of a tank in which they have been immersed since roughly 2007. But the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

There are a number of unsavory allegations swirling around Washington, but do not underestimate the importance of the Justice Department seizing two months of Associated Press phone records without so much as a heads-up. This not only seems like a case of prosecutorial overreach, even in a case involving national security, it strikes at the heart of what journalists do -- and has fostered feelings of betrayal. Does the administration not understand the chilling effect on reporters and their sources, they wonder, or simply not care?

It's easy to say that news organizations recoiled from Obama only when their own special interests were threatened, and maybe there's some truth to that. But the media also have a deep, abiding love for scandal, and beyond the AP phone records story, the administration is lately providing that scandal in spades.

The battle over Benghazi has mostly divided along partisan lines, with conservatives seeing a sustained coverup and liberals perceiving a partisan attack on what was a bungled operation and confused aftermath. But the report by ABC's Jonathan Karl alleging the scrubbing of the Susan Rice talking points (following a less-noticed report by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard) transformed the tone of the coverage in a single stroke.

The Karl report turned out to be based on an inaccurate, misleading characterization of an email, but for the first time, many journalists came to believe the administration had something to hide—and that they had been personally misled in press briefings. That is guaranteed to get the blood flowing.

IRS commissioner: I did not mislead
Carney defends Obama on IRS
Bringing Benghazi terrorists to justice
IRS admits it targeted tea party groups

The disclosure that the IRS selectively targeted conservative groups for review brought immediate condemnation from many across the media spectrum, including Carl Bernstein, who investigated the Nixonian abuses, of which this story carries an unmistakable echo. And it is the trifecta of these scandalous sagas that will dominate coverage for months as media outlets feast on the cycle of investigations, hearings, subpoenas, resignations and denials.

Any doubt that scandal trumps ideology in the media firmament can be dispelled with a glance back at Bill Clinton's tenure, when what he called the "knee-jerk liberal press" investigated Monica Lewinsky, Whitewater and other allegations with a fervor that eventually put it on a virtual war footing against the White House.

More troubling for the current crew is that news outlets are starting to pivot to broader questions about whether Obama is competent at the business of government or a passive bystander in his own administration. That impression, if it takes hold, cannot be Etch-a-Sketched away.

To be sure, some of Obama's antagonists will overreach by framing every scandal as the next Watergate and each revelation as an impeachable offense. That may trigger a counter-reaction in which some of the president's liberal allies shift their focus from the administration's missteps to the opposition's overkill.

Some in the media rolled over for Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign, though the record was decidedly more mixed once he took office. But personal feelings toward this president who has never courted the press no longer matter; nor do personal predilections on gun control and immigration reform. The scandal machinery has kicked into high gear, and its sheer noise may drown out everything else.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT