- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2016

President Obama’s latest criticism of the media on Monday is a symptom of liberals having lost control of the news business, say some analysts of the mainstream press and social media.

At a journalism awards event in Washington, Mr. Obama said the media must help voters in this election year make better decisions by producing stories of greater context, rather than just chronicling which candidates are leading in polls.

“When our elected officials and our political campaigns become entirely untethered from reasoned analysis and facts, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations,” Mr. Obama said.

His speech comes at a time when the president is complaining frequently about the fragmentation of the news media, with conservatives getting their news from conservative outlets and liberals listening only to liberal news media. Mr. Obama said this “splintering” creates a “different world with different facts” for viewers of Fox News, compared with readers of the New York Times.

But Mike Gonzalez, a former Wall Street Journal and wire-service reporter, said the president’s criticism stems largely from liberals having lost their monopoly on the news media.

“The left just cannot get over the fact that the media has become democratized, that the media’s no longer controlled by liberals,” said Mr. Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They used to have a lock on it. They still have academia, they still have Hollywood, but they have lost the control they had on the media. And that has driven them nuts — berserk.”


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Jens David Ohlin, an associate dean at the Cornell Law School, said the new media environment “has been difficult for Obama.”

“I don’t know whether that something in particular about Obama, or whether it’s just the new dynamic we have between the press and the president,” Mr. Ohlin said. “When we elect the next Republican president, it will be interesting to see whether that same dynamic plays in reverse.”

Mr. Ohlin said he agrees with the president that the media “has become a lot more polarized.”

“People go to a particular [news] source to confirm their views, rather than challenge their views,” he said. “That has a feedback loop, so our politics also are becoming increasingly polarized. I certainly think that’s affected the presidential race. I just don’t think the Republican race would have played out the way it did without that kind of polarized media environment. There’s a sense, I think, that journalism ought to be making people less committed to their ideas, rather than more committed to their ideas.”

The popularity of Fox News and other conservative news outlets, and the explosion of social media in the last decade, has presented the White House with a far different landscape than the era of three major television networks and a handful of national newspapers.

Mr. Obama has said the fragmentation makes it more difficult for a president to govern, with the public divided rigidly on issues ranging from national security to climate change policy to the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee.

Few developments have cut into Mr. Obama’s job approval rating more in the past year than terrorist attacks, such as the massacres in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California. After the Paris attacks last November, the president expressed concern that the media coverage was overblown, saying “the media needs to help” because “how we report on this has to maintain perspective.”

He warned that heavy news coverage of the attacks could boost the Islamic State “or elevate them in a way that makes it easier for them to recruit or make them stronger.”

Studies of news coverage have shown that Mr. Obama has received relatively favorable treatment from the media, perhaps more so when he was campaigning for the presidency in 2008 and during his first term. A Pew Research Center study of the 2008 general election found that Mr. Obama’s media coverage was “somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so,” while media coverage of Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee, was “heavily unfavorable” and became more unfavorable as the campaign went on.

The study found that Mr. Obama had his biggest advantage during the Democratic primary in 2008, simply in the amount of press attention he received. It resulted in 54 percent of respondents having heard news stories about Mr. Obama in May 2008, while only 27 percent had heard stories about Hillary Clinton and just 5 percent had heard coverage of Mr. McCain.

“President Obama has benefited for eight years, since he began running,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “A lot of the media really wanted him to become president.”

He said during his presidency, Mr. Obama has become “incredibly thin-skinned” about the Fox News network.

While the president is urging the media to be more responsible, Mr. Gonzalez said the media nowadays has many more tentacles.

“The media is now Twitter,” he said. “It used to be that you had to spend a lot of money on a printing press and buy a lot of ink, or a broadcasting tower. Now all you need is a ‘send’ button, and you can be broadcasting to thousands. They [liberals] can complain all they want. Liberals just hate the fact that they have lost this.”

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