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The Media Starts to Lay Down Markers on a Romney Victory

2:18 PM, Jun 3, 2012 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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In case you missed it, in her column today Maureen Dowd is starting to wonder, is Obama necessary?:

The president who started off with such dazzle now seems incapable of stimulating either the economy or the voters. His campaign is offering Obama 2012 car magnets for a donation of $10; cat collars reading “I Meow for Michelle” for $12; an Obama grill spatula for $40, and discounted hoodies and T-shirts. How the mighty have fallen.

Once glowing, his press is now burning. “To a very real degree, 2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear,” John Heilemann wrote in New York magazine, noting that because Obama feels he can’t run on his record, his campaign will resort to nuking Romney.

In his new book, “A Nation of Wusses,” the Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wonders how “the best communicator in campaign history” lost his touch.

The legendary speaker who drew campaign crowds in the tens of thousands and inspired a dispirited nation ended up nonchalantly delegating to a pork-happy Congress, disdaining the bully pulpit, neglecting to do any L.B.J.-style grunt work with Congress and the American public, and ceding control of his narrative.

This lengthy Dowd column is worth reading in full, for no other reason than to marvel at how little daylight there is between Dowd's angst and the conservative critique of Obama. (Of course, if Dowd's saying this now, she should have realized there was no there there a long time ago. And speaking of "there," Dowd makes a point of noting one of his former roommates compared the protagonist of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer to Obama. I would humbly suggest that Jerry Kosinski's Being There is probably the better literary touchstone.)

In my mind, Dowd's column seems to have something in common with the foofaraw over Politico's story on Thursday that highlighted media bias against Romney, specifically by the Washington Post and Ms. Dowd's employer. A number of liberals dismissed Politico's story as an attempt to hurt the credibility of its two biggest competitors. There may be some truth to that, but I think there's something else going on. Huffington Post's media critic, Michael Calderone, described Politico's piece as a "beat sweetener" -- the journalism term of art to describe favorable stories written to predispose a subject to give greater access to that same media outlet in the future. Given that, as Politico has pointed out, the New York Times and Washington Post went all in early in the campaign with negative stories on Romney -- Dressage! Gay bully! -- Politico wants to position itself as the favored outlet of the Romney White House. That's an outcome that the editors of Politico may think is looking more and more likely, hence the beat sweetener.

Of course, Politico's story came out before Friday's grisly jobs report and Dowd's came out two days after. But impetus of Dowd's column can be viewed in much the same light. She too might be laying down a marker in the event that Obama loses. If Obama loses, she can point to this column in five months and say she saw it coming. Recall that Dowd largely made her bones as a columnist by jumping off of Clinton's ship ahead of many of his liberal defenders when he hit the shoals of scandal.

It's best not to extrapolate too much from a few examples, but it's fair to say that Washington insiders are reading the tea leaves and increasingly preparing for a Romney victory -- especially following Friday's bad economic news. The danger for Obama is that in political campaigns perception can quickly become reality. If influential liberals such as Dowd suddenly have no problem saying Obama appears to be in over his head, pretty soon everyone will be pointing out the obvious. Thus far, Obama's meteoric rise has been largely dependent on a press that went straight from beat sweeteners to beatification. If the press turns on the president, the Obama campaign may not know what to do.

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