By Eric Boehlert: Syria and the Beltway Media Crackup!
On the night of September 10, hours before President Obama addressed the nation about developments surrounding the crises in Syria, NBC Nightly News host Briant Williams huddled with Meet The Press host David Gregory to analyze the day's top story. Events were moving quickly. After weeks of Obama threatening to use military strikes against Syria in the wake of President Bashar Al-Assad being accused of gassing his own people with chemical weapons as part of a "massive attack," a sudden diplomatic opening had appeared. Rather than bombing Syria, the United States might be able to work with Russia to voluntarily hand over its chemical weapons. Good news? Not necessarily according to Williams and Gregory. "What has the president had gotten himself into was, "A real mess: bad sequencing disorganization, a sense of, a lack of real focus and strategy for what the U.S. wants to do in the world." Just four days later, a plan crafted by the United States and Russia's Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of its chemical weapons by next year was announced. So much for the "real mess" the white House had created. So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn't stopped the chattering class from reviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama's stumbling storyline that was attached to the president's initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed or refused to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution.The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected and or damaged his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers. Six months ago, who would've thought that given the chance to get Assad to give up his weapons, that achievement would be portrayed in the press as a foreign policy "fiasco" for the White House? A sampling of pundit-class descriptions of Obama's Syria performance: "head-spinning reversal." "flaccid," "stuck in a box," "confused, erratic," "debacle," "embarrassing spectacle." Meanwhile, two weeks ago, with the prospects dim of Obama winning a Congressional vote to authorize military strikes, it seemed the only option that would save him from political doom at home, and head off the rush among commentators to announce the demise of his second term, was some sort of last-minute diplomatic push to force Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to postpone a Congressional war vote, thereby letting the White House avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat. What happened? Basically that exact scenario unfolded. Yet the Beltway press claimed Obama went about it all the wrong way. Americans didn't seem to mind. The process was botched. It looked clumsy, according to a legion of Beltway theater critics.