On Tuesday morning's Laura Ingraham radio show, Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman pleaded "no contest" in Latin to the conservative host's lecture that Newsweek was too busy celebrifying Barack and Michelle Obama to weigh whether Obama would succeed as president. (Audio here.) He insisted the magazine was "mesmerized" by a "brilliantly run campaign," as if it wasn't also about their liberal wishes and dreams:
INGRAHAM: How is it though with all these smart people at Newsweek – I went around the block with Evan Thomas about this as well. How did you all think that a guy who basically went from the Harvard Law Review, to some community leafleting, organizing, whatever you want to call it, to a short stint, a few lectures about constitutional law at [the University of] Chicago, very short stopover in the state Senate, and a very short stopover in the U.S. Senate. How does that add up to experience to run the biggest economy and the biggest military in the world? And why wasn’t Newsweek, instead of doing these celebrified covers of Michelle and Barack as historic, and celebrity culture, and all this love-love-love-love-love, why wasn’t – Why weren’t those questions asked before this election took place? Because to me, those were the questions to ask. . It wasn’t about personality. It was about experience and outlook.
FINEMAN: Well, uh, first, I’ll plead nolo [contendere] on a lot of this. But –
INGRAHAM: That’s what he did, in the U.S. Senate. He voted present. So you’re voting present for Newsweek.
FINEMAN: No, no. Part of the problem is, or part of the reason is that we – as political reporters, we become enamored with the mechanics of the campaign, and I would still insist that –
Ingraham saw right through the admire-your-mechanics trope:
INGRAHAM: You’re gonna do that if Paul Ryan is the nominee, for the Republicans? You’re gonna celebrify him? I don’t think so.
FINEMAN: No, no. Let me back up for a second. That was – Whatever you say about Barack Obama and David Axelrod in your diaries and everything --
FINEMAN – It was a brilliantly run campaign. And I have come to despair of the notion of the relationship between the quality and shrewdness of a campaign that someone runs and the kind of presidency that they have.
When Ingraham joked that Lady Gaga is good at branding, too, Fineman added; “We were mystified and mesmerized by the quality of the branding campaign that was Obama’s.”
Another word for "mystified and mesmerized" would be that Newsweek was "suckered," or "bamboozled," or to use an Ingraham favorite, "razzle-dazzled." But they knew he would be an inexperienced president, and make plenty of mistakes. They just calculated that they would cross that bridge when they arrived at it. "History" came first, incompetence afterwards.
When the media offers a contender like Obama yards and yards of gauzy press coverage, and when it papers over every inconvenient truth about his hate-preaching minister of two decades, among many contentious fractions of the candidate's personal history, isn't it much easier to portray his campaign as "brilliantly run"?
Earlier, Fineman played the centrist correspondent who would have advised Obama to be less self-impressed with his own historic importance and seek half a loaf of government activism instead of greedily grabbing for a large socialist combination plate:
He consciously at the beginning set himself up as a kind of counterpoint to Reagan. Remember he said he admired Reagan and Hillary got all upset at him admiring Reagan? What Obama admired about Reagan was not his philosophy, or his program, but the fact that Reagan was an inflection point in history, was a big sea change in history. I believe Obama views himself in that way, and that’s why he went for the big health-care bill, and the big stimulus, and all the other big bills to make history, because he felt he would be the anti-Reagan. But I missed – I have to admit I miss half of what I cover when I’m out there. I thought Obama was shrewder than that, and wouldn’t use all of his political capital in the way he did, and it’s hurt him.
But if Obama's in dire political straits now, Newsweek's over-the-top, ego-stoking coverage comparing him without any real factual foundation to historic presidents like FDR and Lincoln is a part of the problem. So maybe after November, Fineman and his colleagues can also plead "no contest" to unintentionally spurring the Republican wave that may come.