A voice from the grave: That is the e-book titled Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama’s Final Campaign. Author Michael Hastings, who had written for Newsweek and Rolling Stone, died in a car crash two months ago—no sign of foul play, I hasten to point out. He left this vivid description of press conduct during last year’s campaign when President Obama gave journalists a brief meet-and-greet opportunity:
“The behavior of the assembled press corps was telling. Everyone, myself included, swooned. Swooned! Head over heels. One or two might have even lost their minds. … We were all, on some level, deeply obsessed with Obama, crushing hard, still a little love there. This was nerd heaven, a politico’s paradise, the subject himself moving among us—shaking our hands, slapping our shoulders!”
Usually, though, the only opportunity new reporters had to sniff at power was to meet a White House official. Hastings wrote about one such chance:
“This was my moment to introduce myself to those White House and campaign officials I didn’t yet know, to begin to build relationships, the currency of political reporting. Smile, shake their hands, let them put a face to the byline. Another kind of anxiety seized me, a paralyzing feeling at the acts of sycophancy any such conversations would require. Did I have it in me to suck up to them?”
I have to fight the tendency to make fun of these folks, and maybe you do, too, for who among us hasn’t worshiped human idols and kissed up at some point? Hastings deserved credit for honesty about status-seeking and fear:
“Perhaps more terrifying: what if I sucked up to them, prostrated myself before them as one more willing journalist to carry their water, repeating their talking points in print and on cable television, joking and joshing my way onto the list of reporters handed authorized leaks, and they didn’t tell me anything anyway?”
Hastings did wonder whether Obama press secretary Jay Carney feels traitorous. (He moved from advocacy journalism at Time to overt public relations.) Then Hastings recalled how “Robert Gibbs, Carney’s predecessor, spent 2012 on the speaking circuit, booking some 40 gigs at an estimated $40,000 a speech; David Plouffe had reportedly accepted $100,000 for two speeches in Nigeria in December 2010. Few media types or reporters could command such sums.” We tend to feel better about looking in the mirror when our bank accounts are ample.