Liberal Media Narratives from JFK to Obama and Trump

March 25th, 2017 4:00 PM

It is one of the most famous liberal media narratives in American history.

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. For anyone alive in the day — I was in the 7th grade — it was a horrific moment. The America of 1963 was experiencing the beginning turmoil of the Civil Rights movement. There were a handful of military “advisers” in a far off place called Vietnam. But for the most part the country was at peace, its eyes already trained on Thanksgiving, a mere week distant, and the Christmas holidays that would follow.

Out of the blue came the news. The young, handsome president of the United States - he with the beautiful wife and two small children - had been shot to death in an open limousine as his motorcade wound through the streets of Dallas. The last time a president had been assassinated was William McKinley in 1901 — a full sixty— two years earlier and well before the active memories of many Americans in 1963. The shock was palpable, with, as I distinctly recall, people literally crying in the streets.

For four days everything stopped as the nation mourned. It was in a very real sense the first national coming together around the television set for a major event, something that would happen many, many times as the future stretched ahead but which was, in the early days of TV, still something that was essentially brand new.

But it was what happened after it was all over that was — and remains — so instructive in the world of the media.

On November 29th, a week after JFK was killed and four days after he had been laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery beneath an eternal flame lit by his widow and brothers - a flame that still burns today - the newly widowed Jacqueline  Kennedy summoned the Pulitzer Prize winning author Theodore H. White to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. White, who had won his Pulitzer for writing The Making of the President 1960, the groundbreaking book on JFK’s winning presidential campaign, dutifully responded, notebook in hand. 

White was not selected by accident. He had become an admirer and friend of the young President. He was a friendly journalist. The new widow chose him specifically because she had something she wanted to say for history - something she wanted to accomplish. And she wanted White to do it for her in the pages of arguably the most famous publication of the day — Life magazine.

For four hours Jackie Kennedy opened her soul to White - who was taking notes for a story he would dictate to his New York editors immediately afterwards at two o’clock in the morning from the Kennedy kitchen phone — as Mrs. Kennedy hovered, listening carefully. The editors of Life, no fools they, held the presses until they had White’s story. And what was that story?

<<< Please support MRC's NewsBusters team with a tax-deductible contribution today. >>>

In fact the White interview of the grieving former First Lady — published under the title “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue” was what media-savvy Americans today would recognize as what might be called the granddaddy of liberal media narratives. Mrs. Kennedy, a one-time journalist herself when she was dating the young Massachusetts politician, wanted Americans - and history - to know somethings about her late husband.  The President was, she said, “a man of magic.”  And with her eye firmly fixed on JFK’s legacy, she went on to borrow a theme from a song in a then-famous Broadway musical, a recording of which she said her husband would listen to before retiring. The musical was Camelot, starring one of the most globally famous actors of the day - the British Richard Burton - as King Arthur, he the legendary leader of the Knights of the Round Table. The lyrics went, in part, this way as Burton-as-King Arthur sang:

“It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!”

White shortened the idea to a simple line. JFK’s presidency, as Mrs. Kennedy would so emotionally describe it, was “one brief shining moment” “known as Camelot.” And ever after —  to this day —  it is a rare story of the slain young president that does not touch on the idea that his time in the White House was an American Camelot. As the years have passed and stories emerged of mistresses, the mob, and assorted hijinks in the Kennedy White House none of them have been able to overtake Mrs. Kennedy’s narrative of JFK as the King Arthur of a White House Camelot.

Why is this important to recall now? While the term had not yet been invented in 1963, what Mrs. Kennedy was doing —  with the ready acquiescence of Theodore White and Life magazine —  was creating the media narrative of JFK’s presidency. Today the liberal media does this all the time. Case in point?

Take the dueling narratives of Presidents Trump and Obama.

Just this week Time magazine came forth with an issue that featured a cover asking: “Is Truth Dead?” The theme - the media narrative from a liberal media publication - was that truth no longer means anything. It zeroes in on, but of course, President Trump. Time editor Nancy Gibbs authors an essay that is titled:  When a President Can't Be Taken at His Word. Among other things Gibbs says this:

“As citizens, it is vital that we be able to believe our President; it is also vital that we know what he believes, and why. This President has made both a severe challenge.”

Now. One has to ask: Where exactly has Ms. Gibbs, not to mention Time magazine and the rest of the liberal media, been for the last eight years of the Obama administration? Do you recall the liberal media narrative that President Obama was a pathological, serial liar? No? Of course not.  But it isn’t because this subject was not being discussed - by conservatives.

Take, for example, this column by conservative author Jack Cashill in the New York Post all the way back there in 2014. The headline?

5 lies that have shaped the Obama presidency

Cashill writes, in part, the following - with bold print supplied:

If past presidents are remembered for their signature achievements, Obama will be remembered for his signature lie: “If you like your health care plan, blah, blah, blah.” The reader knows the rest. Although the most consequential of Obama’s lies — it got him re-elected — it’s far from his only prevarication.

I’ve counted 75 significant lies since his campaign for president began, but that doesn’t begin to tally the casual fibs and hyperbole he spouts seemingly every day. Here are five that illustrate just how much Obama’s presidency is built on falsehoods.

The five big Obama lies Cashill lists are these:

* “My father left my family when I was two-years old.” Says Cashill, the fact is that “baby Obama had never spent a night under the same roof as his father, let alone two years.”

* “The Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program begun under the previous administration.” Cashill: The program began “began in fall 2009” - in the first year of the Obama administration.

* There was “Not even a smidgen of corruption” in the Obama administration. Cashill lists: “IRS, the failed ObamaCare website, the VA scandal, Fast and Furious.”

* “We revealed to the American people exactly what we understood at the time.” Cashill: This was about Benghazi and the blame cast on a video for the attack when in fact the administration knew from the get-go it was a terrorist attack.

* “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Cashill: “Instead, his administration refuses to hand over documents and Obama refuses to answer questions. As liberal constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley assessed the presidency, ‘Barack Obama is really the president Richard Nixon always wanted to be.’”

Cashill was so amazed over Obama’s interesting relationship with the truth that he penned an entire book on the subject: You Lie! The Evasions, Omissions, Fabrications, Frauds and Outright Falsehoods of Barack Obama. 

A quick Google search reveals one conservative publication after another similarly taking the time to call out the Obama habit of making blatant untruths, perhaps the most prominent being “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.”

But what is the liberal media narrative Time — and other outlets — are pumping out there? The Obama presidency was fabulous.He was young, glamorous, literate, and oh so smart. The economy roared along. The world respected us. The eight years of Obama were like those three years of the Kennedy Camelot. And most importantly of all? The president told the truth. 


So here we go again. Trump lies is the new media narrative. This is nothing more than the latest way to attack not only Trump but the newest Republican president. It succeeds the liberal media narrative about President Bush 43 (“Bush lied! People died!”) and the liberal media narrative of Mitt Romney. Romney, recall, was portrayed as having killed a steel workers wife by denying her health care! He beat up a gay kid! He was cruel to his dog! And on and on it goes, all the way back to 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater and his alleged affection for the Nazis. (Really!)

America is a long, long way from that sad week in November of 1963 when a grieving First Lady made it her business to set the media (and history’s) narrative about her late husband. What’s changed is that creating liberal media narratives is a full time occupation  (obsession?) for today’s liberal media.

The difference between 1963 and today is that there is a conservative media around to correct the record.