You may have heard it said that if President Obama discovered a cure for cancer, he would be criticized for putting oncologists out of work. While amusing, there is truth to it. Consider the powerful influence of Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and other conservative media influences. White House communications director Anita Dunn stirred up a firestorm in 2009 when she labeled Fox News a "wing of the Republican Party." However, everyone understood what she was talking about. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously said in 2010, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Combine that shot across the president's bow with incessant attacks by right-wing media outlets, and the task of convincing the American people that the policies of the president and his party were good for the country became all that much tougher. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the news that almost anything that President Obama and the Democrats do or propose to do is severely criticized by the right-wing media and the GOP in Congress. Republicans will often even abandon their own legislation and ideas if embraced by the White House.
With so many Americans, especially in the South and the middle of the country, relying on conservative media, there is at least 30 to 40 percent of the country that will rarely hear anything nice or even neutral about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. No matter how well things go, Obama's media burden ensures the President's approval ratings will never rise higher than 55 to 60 percent. And if conditions are not going well, his approval rating will sink much lower and he will be blamed, no matter how little his influence on the problem. The recent spike in gas prices, blamed on President Obama by many, is a good example.
The Bias of Fox News by Media Matters
A Rasmussen poll last week reported Americans favor repeal of Obama's Health Care Law 56% to 39%. This shouldn't be surprising, considering "Obamacare" is attacked and demonized daily by all the Republican presidential candidates and hourly by the right-wing news and opinion sources. And since President Obama is regarded as the titular head of his party, the media largely ignores what other Democratic leaders are saying.
This media burden is made all the more difficult because President Obama is not one to go on a vigorous offensive to promote his policies, preferring instead to appear bipartisan and moderate whenever possible. Republicans feel no such restraint and use their enormous media clout to sway public opinion.
There is one more advantage conservative media holds over liberal/progressive media. The righties allow certain segments of the public to feel okay about expressing their irrational fears and prejudices. If it is acceptable for Rush, Hannity, Savage, etc to verbally attack and poke fun at others who look or act different, and to act selfish and self-centered, then it implies permission for their audience to feel and behave the same.
In years past, when America was less ideologically divided, almost everyone could agree that the Moon Landing in 1969 was a great event for the whole country, as was President Nixon's 1972 trip to China and President Carter's Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt in 1978. We saw bipartisan support for civil rights, Medicare, and environmental legislation during those years.
There is almost nothing President Obama and the Democrats could do or propose now that will get support from Republicans and their media outlets. Even worse, the Right appears to have no problem distorting facts and lying. They realize they won't be called on their errors by the conservative media, so anything said, true or false, is justified as part of their mission to defeat Democrats and take control of every branch of government.
Conservative Talk Radio-Laura Ingraham by 1170KFAQ
Is Obama's race the major factor for all the right-wing negativity? While there is certainly some racism fueling the hate in certain musty corners of the conservative movement, I don't believe it to be the defining issue. Bill Clinton was vilified by the Right from Day One of his presidency and they never let up. I believe Obama's Burden is the result of a deliberative strategy funded by wealthy corporatists (The Koch Brothers and other billionaires, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc.) funding free-market think tanks and buying up media outlets, in alliance with evangelical Christians and other social and ideological conservatives. This long-range strategy has paid huge dividends in recent years, culminating in their virtual monopoly of news content across a good swath of our nation.
It is fair to say that some media networks and shows are clearly biased toward the Democrats and the Left, but there is no evidence that they use outright lies and factual distortions to anywhere near the extent used by the Right. The powerful right-wing media machine, combined with the unlimited campaign coffers unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, puts President Obama and his allies on the Left at a decided disadvantage when it comes to influencing public opinion. It's as if they are starting a race carrying a heavy weight on their shoulders while running to the November election finish line. It is a burden that will require a lot of muscle and luck to overcome.
Arlen is a writer/blogger living in Monterey, CA. His political blog is thebigpicturereport.com. He also writes a quotation quiz "What's Your QQ?" at quotationquotient.com.