If I believed in ghosts (which I don’t — demons and spirits are another matter altogether), I could almost see the ghost of Richard Milhaus Nixon walking on the grounds of the White House. That America’s 37th President is haunting or otherwise influencing the current President’s recent behavior toward the press could explain a whole lot.
It would probably be safe to say that President Nixon did not care for the press and reporters all that much. Nixon’s relationship with the press was oftentimes contentious. Despite the Mainstream Media’s fawning coverage of Candidate and now President Obama, the 41st President seems to be channeling his inner Nixon as of late. From his spat with the San Francisco Chronicle (not exactly a bastion of conservative thought) over a pool reporter’s use of her cell phone to capture hecklers at an Obama fundraiser to the latest tirade directed at the Boston Herald for having the temerity to ignore headline writing advice from the White House Communications Office, this Administration sure has a strange way of practicing the politics of transparency that Candidate Obama promised. Apparently just telling voters that hope and change is coming to Washington doesn’t always translate into things actually changing. In the world of power politics, it seems that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same.
Whether or not a President (or other political leader) loves or loathes the media, it’s generally not a good sign of strong leadership to openly show your disdain for reporters. With the First Amendment on their side, reporters almost always win in a war of words with politicians. And, regardless of the politics of the man in the Oval Office, no one likes to hear criticism. Nevertheless, how one responds to criticism — particularly shots inflicted by the press — says a lot about the mettle of the man in the big chair. Nixon’s response revealed his character. President Obama’s responses to date are revealing his character. That the character of these two Presidents is strikingly similar, at least with regard to a “free” press, does not bode well for President Obama.
Not to worry. Criticism and negative stories from the press and the people (I assume that means blogs as well — uh oh) will now be watched with a sharp eye and responded to with an equally sharp elbow. In a first for any White House, Jesse Lee is the new media watchdog (presumably watching and responding to only media deemed unfriendly to Obama) in the White House Communications Office. His official title will be
Negative Thought Police Czar Director of Progressive Media and Online Response:
The Obama administration has created and staffed a new position tucked inside their communications shop for helping coordinate rapid response to unfavorable stories and fostering and improving relations with the progressive online community. (article here)
Richard Nixon could not be more proud (and perhaps a little envious). His enemies list was a low-tech operation, typed on a now obsolete thing called a type writer. This President is high-tech. Online surveillance and storing IP addresses for later use. Gotta love it! I wonder what some of those reporters who were on Nixon’s Enemies List would think of President Obama’s relationship with the press today?
One reporter who made Nixon’s list was James Deakin, White House Correspondent for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I don’t remember first-hand much about Watergate and lists (although I remember my mom reading the book by John Dean, Blind Ambition, shortly after it was published). As an elementary-age child in the early 1970’s, I vaguely remember coming home from school and watching some boring hearings on PBS.
I cannot say that I ever remember hearing the name James Deakin before I signed up for his class at George Washington University my junior year (1986-87). By this time, Mr. Deakin was retired from the Post Dispatch and was serving as an Adjunct Professor at G.W.U. Not knowing who he was, I took his journalism/political science class, Politics and the Press. After the first few weeks of class and, after receiving my first grade for a paper I had written, I just knew that I had made a huge mistake.
I got a “C” on the paper and I could not understand why. Silly me. I was a conservative who wrote my paper from a conservative viewpoint. I didn’t think I deserved such a low grade and I went to talk to Professor Deakin. Here I was, a small-town kid from the south trying to talk to a former White House Correspondent who was a proud member of Nixon’s Enemies List. It would be safe to say that Professor Deakin was not a raging conservative!
I went loaded for bear but, much to my surprise (and I think his), we were able to talk about my paper and the legitimate shortcomings in my arguments (my conservatism notwithstanding) and perhaps the overuse of his red pen in marking my paper down. Over the course of the semester, I grew as a writer and we developed a mutual respect for one another, even if we did not agree on every issue. I walked away from Professor Deakin’s class with a hard-earned “A.” It is probably the grade that I cherish the most from my time at George Washington.
In college, much like in high school, there are one or two teachers who stand out, that you will remember for the rest of your life. James Deakin was that Professor for me at G.W.U. He not only taught, but modeled as well, what it meant to be a good journalist. I will never forget his three-pronged approach to a good story: accurate, balanced, and complete (sounds like a certain cable news channel, but I’m not sure he would have been a fan). He was the consummate professional who would stand toe to toe with Presidents of both parties. I can never imagine James Deakin getting a thrill up his leg when reporting on a politician. I can see him trying to get the story and report it accurately and fairly, regardless of his personal political leanings.
And, if his reporting meant that he would land on Nixon’s Enemies List, then that was the price he was willing to pay for a free press in a free state. If the Obama Administration wants to develop their own high-tech enemies list, then any self-respecting journalist worth his or her salt should want to be on it. We all can learn a thing or two from men like James Deakin. I know I did. And, I’m the better for it.