By Richard Benedetto
WASHINGTON – Time and familiarity have a way of cooling even the hottest romances. But so far, after nearly four months of steady dating, The Washington Post is still swooning over Barack Obama, and anything attached to him.
In fact, The Post has it so bad for the rookie president that it recently trumpeted a story on the front page of its Style section that touted him as a “One –Man Stimulus Package” because it says tourists are “flocking” to Obama-related sites in Chicago.
One day earlier, it devoted oodles of Style-section space and 10 photos to celebrities “surfing the Obama wave” at posh parties after the president’s much-ballyhooed first appearance at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner.
“I was invited two years ago, but I didn’t want to go,” said Hollywood heart throb Rhys Myers, the insinuation being that he wouldn’t go when George W. Bush was president, a recurring theme of the Obama presidency: I am not George Bush.
When the Obamas went to church on Easter Sunday, The Post ran not one, not two, but three color photos, and one of onlookers cheering.
When the Obamas got a new dog last month, The Post gushed with three days of coverage, including two front-page stories and photos, and three color photos inside of the Obama family and Bo taken the day he made his highly scripted media debut.
The dog explosion in The Post triggered one shell-shocked reader decrying the lack of “real news” on the front page to write, “Who cares?”
Well, The Post obviously does. It seems it can’t get enough of Obama, whether it is on the issues or the personal side. The White House knows it, and is all too happy to oblige with the soft stuff.
When Obama and Vice President Biden went out tp lunch in an obviously planned “surprise” visit to a Virginia hamburger joint earlier this month , The Post ran a gee-whiz-he-eats- hamburgers piece and two photos on the outing,
“The world’s most powerful man, and the guy a heartbeat away, waited patiently in a single-file line and the lunch crowd gawked,” wrote Post reporter Philip Rucker
It’s all part of the White House building and honing the Obama image as a hard-working president who is everywhere addressing every problem and yet is honest-to-goodness, just-plain folks.
That’s all well and good, but when former president George W. Bush tried to project his human side, the media pooh-poohed it as phony, or worse, ingenuous manipulation. No such concerns now. Where media folks never saw Bush as one of us, with Obama they apparently do. And it makes a big difference in the coverage.
The Post almost seems to welcome the manipulation. On May 4, the paper ran an Associated Press photo of Barack and Michelle Obama strolling hand in hand on the South Lawn after a so-called “date-night” dinner at a fancy Georgetown restaurant. The photo looks like they were “caught” by the camera in a very intimate moment. The fact is that no press photographers have access to the South Lawn unless the White House press office, with Secret Service permission, escorts them out. So much for intimacy.
- White House Easter Egg Roll? Huge Page One centerpiece photo of Obama cheering on a tiny red-haired egg roller. Headline: “Some Good Eggs, on a Roll.”
- The Obama girls? The Post loves them, too. A Page One story on April 18 was headlined, “Move Over Miley. In Washington, The Obama Girls Are the Latest Craze.”
- And when it comes to First Lady Michelle Obama, The Post can’t seem to gush enough. From her visits to D.C. schools and soup kitchens to her White House herb-and-vegetable garden and unveiling of her wax figure by Madame Tussaud’s, admiring stories and photos abound.
- “Gaga for Michelle,” read the caption on a Page One color photo of the first lady’s trip with her husband to Europe in early April. Inside the paper, amid three color photos of her, two headlines read, “Just Like Their Queen, Britons Are Touched By Michelle Obama” and “Journalists Give The First Lady Full Marks at G-20.”
So you see, Obama love is not limited to The Post. Journalists everywhere, at home and abroad, are smitten like school kids. The Post just has it a little badder than most.
Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches journalism and politics at American and Georgetown universities in Washington. D.C.