I'm going to start with a quote from HuffPost's Dan Froomkin worrying about upcoming coverage of the health reform debate from the mainstream media.
The biggest challenge for Obama at this point, however, is the press. Will his speech be a game-changer as far as the coverage is concerned? Last night's triumphant visuals, including wildly cheering Democrats, and the resulting instapolls certainly proved a change of pace from the angry town-halls and barrage of lunacy that so transfixed our elite reporters during August. But the question is actually less whether the tenor of the coverage will change than whether the media will take this occasion to engage -- even just a little bit -- in a serious examination of the issues. Chances are, of course, that the vast majority of the coverage will continue to focus obsessively on politics and process -- and on the next conflict, the next gun-toting whacko, and the next spectacular bit of disinformation. That wouldn't be good for Obama -- or for the nation.
But where is the mainstream media going to go for their stories about Rep. Joseph Wilson yelling at Obama, the "next gun-toting whacko," or the next set of bizarre comments from Michael Steele--Instapundit? Rush Limbaugh? Fox News? Why bother. Such conservative sources will have at least some discussion of whether yelling "liar" at President Obama is a reasonable thing to do or carrying guns to Obama rallies is a good way for conservatives to dissent. Translating all of that into the desired "food fight" between the Obama administration and the right wing would be too much work for the mainstream media. Why should intellectually lazy mainstream media types bother.
That's especially the case because the mainstream media can draw its stories on right-wing antics from HuffPost. It's 10:58pm Eastern Standard time. Let's see what HuffPost has up right now. For their headline, they have a picture of Rep. Joseph Wilson of "you lie" fame along with four articles on the Joe Wilson story. Anybody reading HuffPost tonight--including the sheep-like mainstream media--would reasonably conclude that the most important thing about President Obama's speech as a political event was Joe Wilson's outburst. Not Obama's arguments concerning why health reform is necessary, his criticism of skyrocketing medical costs, Obama's attempt to pose himself as a moderate manuevering between "progressives" and "conservatives," or even his stories about seriously ill patients having their health insurance pulled. Instead of following up on the poor people who have died because of the inhumanity of the insurance companies, HuffPost decided to make Rep. Joe Wilson just as famous as Joe the Plumber.
It gets worse. Almost immediately below the headline is a story about Glenn Beck--I'm sorry two stories about Glenn Beck right below a picture of Glenn Beck. So far, we have pictures of Joe Wilson and Glenn Beck on what might have been considered a big day for Barack Obama and the health care debate. I had to push my "PgDn" button three times before I got to a picture of Obama and the picture of Obama makes him look thin and small compared to the full exposure given Joe Wilson. Progressives at HuffPost and TPM have been complaining all day that Republicans like Joe Wilson did not show proper respect for Obama and intimated that they were at least partly motivated by racism. And I think they're right. But treating Joe Wilson as though he's more important than Obama isn't much of a way to show respect for Obama either.
Scrolling down on Huffpost, there's at least three more stories about Joe Wilson, another story about the California politician who resigned after some pornographic bragging about his (alleged) affairs, and Jane Hamsher criticizing Obama. Compared to the wall coverage of Joe Wilson, the progressive HuffPost only has three articles by Froomkin, Maxine Waters, and Paul Begala praising Obama and commenting a little on the substance of his views. In other words, HuffPost is practically a warehouse for stories on the state of the right-wing antics and relatively little coverage to the speech itself. And even then, a considerable amount of HuffPost's coverage of the speech is about polling and the politics of the moderate, progressive split among congressional Democrats. Dan Froomkin complains about the lack of policy substance in the mainstream media, but it's not like HuffPost is any better. And given that HuffPost "rules the world" of the mainstream media more than Drudge, HuffPost has become a significant source of the problem for the mainstream media as well.
And it's not just HuffPost. Talking Points Media features a big picture of Joe Wilson with smaller pictures of Dick Armey and John Boehner. Altogether I count eight stories on Joe Wilson and only three stories on Obama's speech (concerning Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden, and Joe Biden). And even those stories are more than balanced by other stories about Michael Steele, Mark Sanford, and California sex-bragger Mark Duvall. If a Democratic politician really wanted to be featured on TPM or HuffPost, the best thing they could do would be to start seeing prostitutes or go one better than Mark Sanford and have an affair with an exotic Brazilian beauty. Maybe President Obama could get more coverage in the progressive media if he filed for divorce.
To be fair, Salon featured a positive column about Obama's speech from Joan Walsh even though it still ran more articles about the Republican reaction.
All in all, the big-time progressive media has its head firmly up its butt about Obama's speech, the health care debate, and health care policy. As bad as the mainstream media is, the progressive media doesn't have a lot of room to criticize.