- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2015

Nearly seven years into his tenure, President Obama remains on friendly terms with some powerful figures in the media.

In recent weeks, the president has gotten cozy with top executives at major U.S. newspapers, headlining a Democratic Party fundraiser at the home of Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and dining at the Anchorage home of Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff during a three-day trek across the state last week.

On the surface the events didn’t seem to influence either paper’s coverage of the president during his stays in Las Vegas and Alaska, but journalism specialists say they may have raised questions in the eyes of average Americans about the fairness of the news media.

At the same time, however, a distinction must be drawn between the business leaders at an individual media outlet and the reporters who work beneath them, says John Watson, director of the journalism division at American University.

“Here’s a news flash for you: The people who own newspapers and the people who publish newspapers aren’t journalists. They’re business people,” Mr. Watson said. “Owners and publishers aren’t journalists, even though they own and employ journalists. It’s different.

“But for the average person, it looks bad because most people don’t make a distinction between publishers and owners [and journalists]. Whatever the publisher does should not have any effect on what professional journalists do,” he said.

Top editors at both the Las Vegas Sun and the Alaska Dispatch News did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Visiting the homes of top newspaper executives seems rare for Mr. Obama, though he has enjoyed strong support — financially and otherwise — from high-profile figures in the media world.

Newsweb Corp. Chairman Fred Eychaner, for example, hosted fundraisers for the president in 2012 and reportedly is one of the Democratic Party’s leading financial backers.

Separate from the fundraiser at the home of Mr. Greenspun — which included brief remarks and a lengthy question-and-answer session with the president — and the private dinner with Ms. Rogoff, a pro-Obama bias on behalf of many in the news media has been well documented over the past seven years.

In the final days of the 2012 presidential contest, for example, Mr. Obama saw a surge in positive media coverage, while Republican candidate Mitt Romney got less attention, according to a review of the 2012 election by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“In the final week of the 2012 presidential campaign, Barack Obama enjoyed his most positive run of news coverage in months. Only during the week of his nominating convention was the treatment in the press more favorable,” the review reads in part. “For Mitt Romney in the final week, the tone of coverage remained largely unchanged from the previous two weeks.

“After receiving roughly identical levels of coverage for most of October, in the last week of campaigning Obama was a significant presence in eight out of 10 campaign stories compared with six in 10 for Romney — one of the biggest disparities in any week after Labor Day,” the review says.

At the Las Vegas fundraiser late last month — which came immediately after Mr. Obama spoke at a renewable energy conference hosted by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — the president largely stuck to his usual script, which includes boasting about economic growth in recent years and promoting Democratic candidates for state and federal office.

But the president did make news by referring to Republicans as “crazies,” saying he and Mr. Reid will face an uphill battle in trying to work across the aisle over the next 16 months.

“It’s hard for me to express how much I love Harry Reid, but it’s easier to do in a room of people who love Harry Reid. Harry and I drove over here together, and we were doing a little reminiscing, and then figuring out how we’re going to deal with the crazies in terms of managing some problems. And then we talked about riding off into the sunset together,” Mr. Obama said.

“Everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve accomplished because Harry Reid was there by my side. And I am forever grateful for his friendship and his strength, because the thing about Harry is he’s a great politician, but he’s also a man with a lot of backbone and is willing to do the hard things when it’s required, and that’s what you want out of a political leader.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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