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Obama's Olympic Failure Will Test the Washington Press Corps

6:45 PM, Oct 2, 2009 • By FRED BARNES
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Now is the time for the mainstream media to show it's not totally in President Obama's pocket. The Washington press corps will never fault Obama for pushing hyper-liberal policies in a moderate-to-conservative country. Ideological criticism by the press is reserved for Republican presidents.

But the media is faced with three facts as a result of Obama's embarrassing failure in Copenhagen. 1) The failure itself. 2) The incompetence. 3) The lack of persuasive ability. There's nothing ideological about any of these items.

First, when an American president voluntarily takes up a fight and loses badly, it's a big deal. Obama could have stayed out. Having the summer Olympics in Chicago doesn't involve the national interest. But he thought the matter important enough to fly to Denmark and make the pitch for his hometown in person. He put his prestige on the line, only to be slapped down. He can't blame George W. Bush for this one, though his minions may try.

We know the world loves Obama. What the action by the International Olympic Committee demonstrates is that being loved isn't the same as being influential or taken seriously or respected or feared -- the traits of many of Obama's predecessors in the presidency. If he can't deliver on a vote of the IOC, does he really have the clout to pressure the mullahs in Iran into giving up their nuclear ambitions? Maybe not.

Second, Obama's aides assured reporters the president wouldn't be put in a position where he could be embarrassed. But that's exactly what happened. The White House gang thought the IOC was poised to ratify the president's bid for a Chicago Olympics. Hardly anyone else shared that view, including the Japanese, who figured Tokyo wouldn't be picked but Rio would be and Chicago would finish last.

The issue here is one of incompetence. Somebody -- maybe more than one person -- didn't scope out the inclinations of the IOC's voting members adequately or utterly misread how a personal appearance by the American president would be received. Imagine if something like this occurred on a national security issue. Then the media would demand accountability. The Olympics issue is hardly as consequential, but that shouldn't inhibit the press in seeking accountability.

Third, where was the charisma, the skill in persuading people to see things Obama's way? The media has built Obama up as a communicator who's the equal of Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. True, he's delivered several fine speeches, but all of them before he became president. Now he's either lost his touch or never was the orator the press said he was.

A persuasive president is one who can move people and poll numbers his way. Obama hasn't managed this as president. Last month, he spoke in prime time to Congress on health care, appeared on five Sunday interview shows, and showed up on the David Letterman show. The result: zilch. Support for his health care policy rose ever so slightly, then settled back to where it had been.

The thriller in Copenhagen was not just a test of Obama. It's a test of the media's willingness to cover the president professionally and honestly when he stumbles. A love affair with a president should have its limits.