Newsweek's cover this week declares that Barack Obama is the "First Gay President," playing on the reader's knowledge that Obama isn't himself gay, but his support for same-sex marriage earns him an honorary rainbow halo. The headline obviously calls back to 1998, when Toni Morrison declared Bill Clinton the first black president in The New Yorker, which at the time was edited by current Newsweek editor Tina Brown.
The juxtaposition of a networked, open-source campaign and a historically imperial office will have profound implications and raise significant questions. Special-interest groups and lobbyists will now contend with an environment of transparency and a president who owes them nothing. The news media will now contend with an administration that can take its case directly to its base without even booking time on the networks.
The Obama campaign’s efforts underscore the importance that political campaigns now attach to Web video and the role the medium will probably play in the coming election. Once best known in politics as the venue for viral parodies and hastily produced response efforts, online video is vital in the way campaigns communicate with and persuade voters.
The Obama administration has long had a spiky relationship with the media. White House reporters have complained repeatedly about what they see as a prickly, closed-off administration. For his part, Obama has scolded the press for what he sees as a focus on trivialities and scandal at the expense of more serious matters.
By and large, though, the Administration’s press office has been distinguished less by its transparency than by its discipline. Leaks are few and usually deliberate.
During the 2008 election, Obama was the object of near-veneration, but now that the President has rolled out his ambitious initiatives, he bristles at the way he’s treated in the media. This is hardly new. This time, though, the battle between the President and the press is different. There is a third party involved—the Internet—and this technological transformation of the media has influenced how the press goes about its work.
The president’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage last week was influenced in part by the negative headlines he was getting on the subject in the mainstream press, especially The New York Times, and the pummeling press secretary Jay Carney was absorbing in the briefing room, according to administration officials.
As the campaign kicks in, Obama is increasingly calling out the media’s lack of gravitas, though he’s willing to hold his nose if a lighter-weight outfit is really nice to him or offers access to a choice audience.
“No wonder that faith in our institutions has never been lower, particularly when good news doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as bad news anymore,” the president told students at Barnard College in Manhattan on Monday. “Every day you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal and stories with a message that suggest change isn’t possible.”
The study finds that 9% of the coverage of the nation's first black president and his administration during Obama's first year in office had some race angle to it. Here, too, this coverage was largely tied to specific incidents or controversies rather than to broader issues and themes.
These findings come from an examination of more than 67,000 national news stories that appeared between Feb. 16, 2009 and Feb. 15, 2010 in different mainstream media outlets, including newspapers, cable and network television, radio, and news websites.