The unfolding story of the Obama administration monitoring not just telephone records but Internet usage has drawn media coverage with adjectives like “astonishing.” No doubt about it, even the pro-Obama press acknowledges it is a scandal. Still, it is laughable that the media would label him a “dictator” or discuss the “I word.”
That’s not what greeted George W. Bush at the end of 2005. Just eight years ago, journalists openly discussed tyranny and the possibility of impeachment.
On Newsweek’s website on December 19, 2005, Jonathan Alter went ballistic: “We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War....If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.”
On CNN the next day, crusty commentator Jack Cafferty echoed: “If you listen carefully, you can hear the word 'impeachment.' Two congressional Democrats are using it, and they're not the only ones.”
On CBS on December 21, morning show host Russ Mitchell asked law professor Jonathan Turley about Bush. “Do you see this leading to impeachment proceedings against the President?” Turley agreed. “Well, Russ, what I can tell you is that I do believe this is a federal crime and it would constitute an impeachable offense.”
Months later, on April 23, 2006, ABC’s Sam Donaldson declared it a sacred duty to disobey the Bush administration when a leaker exposed secret CIA prisons for terrorist suspects. “Remember the great American saying, ‘Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God,’” he lectured. “In this case, it was something that clearly, I think, most Americans would agree is not what we want to do, secret prisons....Exposing something like that does not hurt us. It helps us.”
On July 17, 2006, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift denounced Bush the tyrant on “The McLaughlin Group.” She said Russia’s Vladimir Putin is "the only one of those leaders who goes in there with a commanding popularity among his own people, because he is perceived to be an effective dictator. What we have in this country is a dictator who’s ineffective." When someone protested, she backtracked to Bush being an “authoritarian president who’s ineffective.”
Despite all this, major-media polls in 2006 showed most Americans favored investigating terrorist threats over preventing intrusions on their privacy. The same is true today, especially after the Boston Marathon bombing.
The people may be consistent. Journalists are not.
Eleanor Clift has scrapped the “dictator” talk now. On “The McLaughlin Group” on June 7, she decried how “There's a lot of alarmist rhetoric on both the left and the right. But, in fact, this has been going on for the last several years. It began in the Bush administration.” He was a “dictator” then, but now everything is perfectly sound.
Jonathan Alter was just as partisan. He told WBUR on June 10 that Obama sees very scary intelligence briefings every day, and “his first job is to protect the United States, and that’s his oath. But as we saw in his speech last week, he’s very conscious of balancing national security with civil liberties. He might not have done it right in this particular program, but at least he’s making the effort to strike that balance, which the Republicans generally do not.”
On CNN, impeachment now comes up only as a preposterous notion. On May 29, Piers Morgan was trying to press libertarian author Wayne Allan Root on the weird notion of impeaching Obama over the IRS scandal: “However, to get talking approximate impeachment, you've really got to nail President Obama's fingerprints to any of these things and I don't see any of that. I don't see that there is any chain that leads to Obama.”
It’s so outrageous that Republicans will surely suffer, we are now told on CNN. On June 2, Candy Crowley pushed the “Republican overreach” line on her Sunday show “State of the Union.” Crowley asserted that “in 1998 they lost because they overplayed their impeachment hand.”
The same happened on CBS. On May 30, “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose asked pollster Frank Luntz: “Do you think they’re overplaying it, the Republicans?” Luntz replied, “No, at this point I`m actually impressed. One or two have used the I-word, impeachment, which no American would support for something like this.”
This Obama scandal is yet the latest example of a dramatic pro-Obama bias. Journalists screamed “dictator” over Bush programs, and then when Obama continued them without interruption, he was just wisely keeping the country safe. As the Obama scandals continue to multiply, it’s the media’s credibility that should take the hardest hit.