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Obama, enjoy the honeymoon while it lasts

Adubato: Media loves to build up candidates, loves to tear them down more

Obama a star among stars in Hollywood
Feb. 20: Democratic strategist Jack Quinn and Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt talk to MSNBC-TV's Norah O'Donnell about presidential candidate Barack Obama's popularity in Hollywood.
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Steve Adubato
Media analyst

There is a sort of love affair, if not an intense infatuation, going on between Barack Obama and the mainstream media. This guy comes right out of central casting for presidential candidates. He is young, charismatic, dynamic, charming, speaks in sound bites, and, according to the photo in People magazine, looks better than his opponents in a bathing suit.

We in the media love to cover the horse race. Each presidential campaign starts earlier than the one before it.  The 2008 campaign will be more like an ultra-marathon than a 5K or 10K race. It will be about endurance and discipline, about conditioning and the ability to manage the media under the most difficult of circumstances. 

In many ways, Barack Obama is the Howard Dean of 2008 — only with a pleasant personality and lacking the volatility that caused Dean to implode when he came in third in Iowa in 2004. I first realized how media-savvy Obama is when I saw him on “Oprah.” He was relaxed and conversational. He was chumming it up with Oprah, and the crowd filled mostly with women loved it. He was self-effacing and as substantive as he needed to be.  No serious policy talk here. Obama knew his audience. They wanted to know him as a person; as a husband; as a father; and as a black man running for president with a very realistic chance of winning.

Obama’s media appeal became even clearer when his wife, Michelle, joined him and Oprah on the set. Michelle and Barack Obama appear to be a media dream couple. She, too, is classy, looks great on camera and appears to know just what to say. She, too, is self-deprecating, but poked fun at her husband while still being respectful.

The media’s love affair with Barack Obama is also based on another factor — race.  While Obama’s mother was white, he clearly identifies himself as a black politician. And while it is still early, it appears that most white reporters are not that comfortable aggressively challenging Obama.  I’m not saying that Obama won’t be challenged aggressively down the road, but for now, the media “honeymoon” is in full swing. A prime example is this headline in The New York Times on Feb. 20: “The ‘Hot’ Ticket in Hollywood: An Evening with Obama."

“Saturday Night Live’s” Darrell Hammond and other white comedians who poke fun at politicians for a living recently told Newsweek magazine that Obama is very difficult to rip apart. Hammond said that Obama was smart and articulate. (Which is not funny.) Many white comedians said that it was risky to poke fun at a black candidate for fear it may be seen as racist. Frankly, it is harder for white comedians to make fun of black politicians than it is for black comedians, like Chris Rock or Tracy Morgan, to make fun of George Bush, John Kerry or even Hillary Clinton. I’m convinced the same principle holds true for many white journalists when it comes to aggressively challenging or criticizing Obama. They have little or no experience doing it, and many are not sure of how it will play. 

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