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The Frog’s Lament

There’s an old fable about a scorpion and a frog who meet at a stream. The scorpion wished to cross but couldn’t swim. The frog could swim, but is afraid of a stork lurking on the other side. The scorpion makes a proposal: if the frog carries him across the stream, he will scare away the stork, and both will benefit. The frog is reluctant because he fears the scorpion also, but eventually accepts the deal and starts carrying the scorpion across.

Halfway across the stream the scorpion stings the frog. Knowing they are both doomed, the frog asks him why he did it, and the scorpion replies: “It is my nature.”

This fable came to mind as I read accounts of the press becoming disenchanted by the restricted access to the new Obama administration. Does the press not recall Obama’s “nature” during the campaign?

In May, A certain female reporter caught Obama touring an auto plan in Detroit and asked him what he would do for auto workers. Obama’s answer: “Hold on a second, sweetie, we’ll hold a press avail.” He never did. It wasn’t until the “sweetie” video started getting national play that he apologized to the reporter — but still failed to deliver the “press avail.”

When, in October, some television stations gave Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden  a bit of a rough time, the Obama campaign informed those stations they would have no further access to the candidates.

As the election neared, the campaign decided that EbonyJet magazine deserved seats on Obama’s campaign-press plane. To make room, the reporters from three newspapers were tossed off. How coincidental that all three of these papers had been less than fawning in their coverage of the candidate: the New York Post, the Washington Times, and the Dallas Morning News.

That’s how Obama ran. Expecting him to change his relationship with the press once elected — and in less need of the press’s support — was delusional. It should come as no surprise that President Obama popped into the White House press-room and got irritated when asked a question, or that reporters were shut off from covering his first day in office or the re-do of his oath.

Now the media are utterly dependent on President Obama’s good will because they sacrificed so much — their independence, their objectivity — to get him elected. The only way for the media to reassert their independence would be by subjecting Obama to the same level of scrutiny that used to characterize the status quo relationship between the press and the government. I’m not sure they can muster the credibility for such a bold move: too many people’s eyes have been opened to the gross malpractice the press has committed during the campaign — the mainstream media’s love-fest around candidate Obama.

That the press is starting to grumble about the Obama administration’s shortcomings is an encouraging development. But it very well might be too late.

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