The Politico-sponsored blog “Behind the Curtain,” written by Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen, published a scathing piece on Monday calling President Obama “the puppet master” in relation to his interactions with the White House press corps. Regardless of your opinion of Vandehei and Allen, or of Politico as a news organization, the piece brings up several very interesting questions about the ability of the media to report a story that is not explicitly sponsored by the West Wing.
Of course, the White House historically has tried its best to craft the image that it wants, providing the media with White House-sponsored narratives, softball press conferences and the like. However, with the advent of social media, Vandehei and Allen say the White House’s control of its image has become nearly ubiquitous. Reporters aren’t granted access to the president to ask questions. The White House stonewalls them if they choose to report stories that the president doesn’t approve of, and they are forced to use White House-sponsored photos and soundbites to craft their stories.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Information is the currency of democracy.” And right now, Obama is the one percent of information. An uninformed electorate provides enormous latitude for Obama to pursue whatever policies he wants to without fear that his carefully crafted message will be ruined by an upstart reporter.
The media is the fourth branch of government. Its major role in regard to politics is to inform the electorate so the people can make educated decisions. This may seem minor, but it’s the difference between the public knowing and understanding Obama’s drone program and complete dismissal of it as a necessary evil part of our “war on terror.”
The question is, why is Obama, a self-proclaimed progressive liberal who is constantly touting his administration as the most transparent ever, using authoritarian-style tactics to control press coverage of his actions?
When it comes down to it, all presidents past and present are men — men with differing agendas and varying morals. What Obama has shown so far is that he is willing to accept moral relativism in exchange for the ability to achieve his goals. That is to say, he is willing to make morally fuzzy decisions in order to achieve what he needs. That’s why it’s okay to bomb innocents in the Middle East with drone strikes. Because, in his mind, it’s saving the U.S. from attacks by terrorists. It’s okay to blackball media, because his intentions are more pure than ours. That is American exceptionalism on a small scale, and it’s very dangerous.
Everything that a president does sets precedents. Presidents who follow Obama will look back to the increases in power that he achieved, and set their bar there. So when Obama legislates through executive orders and makes morally vague choices in order to achieve his goals, presidents that follow him will decide to do the same based on precedent. There’s a slippery road that we’re heading down. If the president can legislate through Congress, that’s one check gone. If the media isn’t there to critique him, that’s another check, and the issue continues to snowball until the president has far more powers than the framers of the Constitution ever intended.
The second term of any president is about sealing his legacy. Right now, that legacy to me is of a president who broadly expanded his power in order to achieve what he wants — a ruthless president with a cutting-edge media team who made sure his darkest policies never made it to light. However, there’s a lot of time left in this president’s career. Time will tell what his true legacy will be.
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