The Lefty Press in the Age of Obama

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In my recent bloggingheads session with Yglesias, I talked a lot about the perils awaiting the progressive mediasphere in an age of liberal dominance - perils with which the conservative mediasphere became, alas, intimately familiar with in the age of Bush. And I meant to link to this post from Ezra Klein, written in the wake of Obama's big dinners with pundits of the right and left, as an example of what I had in mind:

... the important thing Obama could do for the "liberal" media is not have dinner with them. That's good for egos but meaningless for influence. It is, however, well within Obama's power to increase the influence of progressive outlets. Covering the presidency is the central concern of political reportage. And an outlet's ability to cover the presidency can be affected by the favor of the President. If The American Prospect and TPM Cafe and Huffington Post and others of our ilk were given the occasional interview with Obama, and fed useful scoops, that would rapidly increase our readership, our importance in the broader media ecosystem, and the likelihood that members of our outlets would go on to hold key positions in more mainstream institutions. To give just one example, if was understood that Mark Schmitt had more contacts with the Obama crew than Howard Fineman, the Sunday shows would be more likely to turn to Schmitt for analysis. In the long-run, that would be good for both Obama and for progressivism. And he wouldn't even have to waste time watching me chew my dinner.

Now obviously if I worked for The American Prospect or HuffPo I'd be thinking exactly along these lines: It would be absurd for a ideologically-motivated publication to turn down a shot at political influence to preserve its sense of purity. (And I'm all for Mark Schmitt on Meet the Press - or better, as a permanent replacement for David Gergen.) But it's still worth noting that this is roughly how the Bush Administration treated the conservative media - rolling out scoops to partisan outlets, wooing right-wing media types with Presidential face-time, bypassing mainstream outlets in favor of talk radio and Fox News, and so forth. And in the long run, it was good for neither the Bushies nor for conservatism. 

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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