Change We Have Been Waiting For: Ryan Lizza Edition

So–let me get this straight.

Ryan Lizza writes, if not a hatchet job, a distinctly unflattering piece on Obama in the New Yorker.

The next week, Lizza &#8212 along with the majority of other reporters &#8212 does not get a seat on Obama’s plane during his Middle East tour.

And suddenly every reporter and his brother-in-law are shocked &#8212 shocked &#8212 that maybe Obama would be engaging in payback.

“This is not the change we have been waiting for,” sniffs Jeff Goldberg.

Rachel Sklar wrings her hands and calls it a “worrisome signal.”

Joe Gandelman lectures, “If this was mere happenstance, then it’s an example of poor and short-sighted staffing.”

Give. Me. A. Break.

First, it’s not clear that there was any payback here, but please: the press got this from the Bush Administration every day for eight years, and only now it’s getting the vapors? Please.

And no, it’s no good to say, as Gandelman does, “Some partisans will invariably say: ‘Well, this happens under Bush.’ And then talk about change.”

I realize that this will come as news to the privileged reporters of the Beltway elite, but: change is not about you.

Change is about the nation’s priorities. It is about policy. It is about whether the President cares about the thin slice of the super-rich, or about the broad American working class. It is about whether we will face up to the upcoming climate crisis, or ignore science in the face of the energy industry’s agenda. It is about whether we look at facts in foreign policy, or pretend that what we want is what exists.

It is not about whether elite reporters get their favorite donut flavors aboard Air Force One.

You notice that these same reporters have been questioning Obama’s national security bona fides, wondering whether he is “tough enough” to handle foreign negotiations?

Well, maybe they should consider this part of the answer.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle disagrees. She writes:

The Bush Administration has been famous for its punitive attitude towards journalists, and this makes it look like Team Obama has been studying their tactics. Being on the campaign plane matters for someone covering the campaign; this is not a matter of what flavor donuts are on the plane. Mr Zasloff’s sneer is like comparing censorship to an argument about whose name comes first on the article.

It’s no defense that the Bush administration does it–when the Bush administration does it, they are wrong. So is the Obama campaign, and frankly, I’d expect Zasloff to know that “the Bush administration did it” is not exactly the bar we want to set for our politicians.

To quote Tom Stoppard, “Information is light”. Politicians like to make policy in the dark; it’s the job of journalists to force them into the sunshine where we can watch the bastards. If you excuse petty punishments of reporters on the grounds that all that really matterrs is the policy, you’ll soon find that you’ve lost not only the reporters, but the good policy. Half the sins of the Bush administration were committed because they were so successful at hiding their actions from the media.

I don’t buy it for a second–although McArdle is right to say I was a little too sneering. It’s not clear to me at all why hardball tactics with the press–which McArdle calls “petty punishments”–in any way implies that an administration will lose “the good policy.” LBJ was very hardball with the press: sometimes his policy was fantastic, and other times it was abysmal. JFK was wonderful with the press: sometimes his policy was fantastic, and other times it was abysmal.

But I suppose I disagree most profoundly with McArdle’s notion that “half the sins of the Bush administration were committed because they were so successful at hiding their actions from the media.” Wrong. Half the sins of the Bush administration were committed because of a profoundly warped sense of what was and is good for the country. The other half were also committed because of a profoundly warped sense of what was and is good for the country.

I suppose that McArdle’s point is that had the administration been more open to the press, then their misdeeds would have come to light sooner. But that is wrong as well. Good reporters–like McClatchey, like Charlie Savage at the Boston Globe–were pointing out the lies and inconsistencies of the administration long before it was popular. Good columnists like Paul Krugman were pointing out for years that Bush’s lies were, well, lies. And the mainstream press simply ignored these storylines, or dismissed their advocates as being “shrill.” That wasn’t because of the administration’s punitive policies, and it wasn’t because some reporters were left off of the plane: it was because the press simply was not doing its job.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.