He was going to clean up politics and usher in a new era of openness and frankness. He promised to push his administration to find new ways to connect directly and honestly with the public. And after eight years of the lying, secretive, manipulating Bush administration, it shouldn’t have been hard for President Obama to usher in a new era. But in large and small ways alike, the President has not only fallen short, but has actually proved himself a far more adept manipulator than his predecessor.
From his stealthy escalation of the war in South Asia to his expansion of the intrusive national security apparatus; from his administration’s backroom deals with the energy industry to its continued support for some of the world’s nastiest regimes; from his aggrandisement of executive power around the waging of war to his fulsome embrace of corporate dollars; Obama is giving George W Bush a run for his money.
Those are the big things. Now we also know that Obama, indulging in his literary bent, edits The New York Times. The same newspaper revealed rather sheepishly early this week that, in common with most other publications, it permits the Obama and Romney campaigns to check and alter quotations. Not correct them, but check and alter them when the campaigns don’t want the journalists to report what they did, in fact, say. In other words, they tell journalists what they can write, and if the journalists balk, they stop talking to them.
It’s a small thing, but it reflects the basic corruption of the politics that the Obama and Romney campaigns—in common with most others over the years—are practising.
I’d expect nothing less of Romney, whose background suggests an arrogant control-freak, unused to the tiresome demands of an open, democratic society. ‘Accountability’ is a word apparently lost in the translation between the real world and that one inhabited by Romney and his fellow Bain-ites. His campaign’s response to demands that he release his tax returns would be funny if they weren’t being serious. Some people have imaginary acquaintances; Romney is a man whose best friends are corporations—he undoubtedly invites them to his birthday party and sits down for Sunday lunches with them, and in return they help him with his tax returns. But coming from the Obama campaign, this kind of behaviour feels like a kick in the slats or, depending on your perspective, just another one of the betrayals we’ve almost come to expect, albeit one so petty and unnecessary that it exposes the emptiness of his campaign rhetoric all the more effectively.
If the political world was a pig sty, Obama and Romney would be the biggest porkers in town, wallowing in all the filth and dishonesty that seems to characterise our politics, and the scribblers would be the curly-tailed piglets oinking around after the scraps that the dollar-swilling swine at the top of the political trash pile deign to drop in their direction.
The invertebrates at The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters, and the Los Angeles Times, among others, call what they do journalism. I’d call it obsequious trough snuffling, and they should not only be ashamed of themselves, but should work to make amends to the public they’ve betrayed by refusing to grant interviews to individuals attached to campaigns which attempt to distort the public record. They should redouble their efforts to get at the truth, and they shouldn’t let some hatchet-faced political hack from the Obama and Romney campaigns who had his moral fibre surgically removed at birth decide what constitutes the truth.
Already journalists are making excuses, talking themselves in circles (for some of the gibberish that passes for explanation or the tortured semi-apologies, see the Guardian’s article), and in general, sounding quite miserable. But hopefully, after they’ve wallowed in self-pity for a little while, journalists and the organisations they represent will set out to reclaim some of their profession’s credibility—so much of which has been draining away during the past decade.