Payback time for Obama as media revert to type

June 28, 2010

Although Barack Obama’s administration already has major achievements to its credit in healthcare reform and arms reduction, his approval ratings have declined dramatically.

An expert on American politics will argue this week that the media have played a central role in building up and then dashing “excessive expectations” for the US president.

David Paletz, professor of political science at Duke University and a Fellow of the Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Nottingham, is due to give a lecture on “Obama and the Media” in Nottingham on 30 June.

He will examine the administration’s media management techniques, the media’s response and the consequences for the president and his policies.

President Obama has certainly had to put up with some savage opposition from the likes of Fox News and right-wing “shock jocks”, some of whom have described his policies as “socialism en route to Nazism”.

Yet Professor Paletz will argue that the president was given a very easy ride – and often idealised – by much of the media, who gladly bought into his message that “yes we can…take action on the economy, the environment, civil liberties and much more”.

They have now reverted to type and “embrace a notion of acting as watchdogs and seek ways to present an independent and critical account whenever possible”, he believes.

The president’s accomplishments are ignored once they are no longer newsworthy, but we get to hear lots about all the “difficulties and delays”, Professor Paletz will argue, noting that some of the criticisms apply standards that no one could reasonably be expected to live up to.

Professor Paletz will remind his audience that the American political system was specifically designed to be “infrequently innovative” and “to act with neither efficiency nor dispatch”. Yet commentators “often give the impression that presidents can govern by command” and “raise expectations of what presidents should, and can, do”.

The result is inevitable disappointment, with President Obama’s strengths systematically recast as weaknesses, thoughtfulness as indecisiveness, idealism as naivety, eloquence as “credulous faith in rhetoric”. It remains to be seen whether he can cut through this climate of opinion to secure a second term in office.

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