The media sure is hard to please

THE MEDIA SURE IS HARD TO PLEASE…. Last week, much of the media establishment drooled all over itself while praising Paul Ryan’s right-wing budget plan. For most major news outlets, the far-right chairman of the House Budget Committee was “courageously” tackling an issue the media cares about — deficit and debt reduction — in a way they found satisfying (slashing health care for seniors and the disabled = “serious”).

Perhaps, then, the media would be pleased with President Obama’s debt-reduction plan. After all, he’s playing the game the establishment wants him to play — focusing on fiscal responsibility — and doing so with a sound, credible proposal that would actually do what it sets out to do. Best of all, the White House made sure the president’s numbers add up, which is more than we can say about Ryan’s plan.

But the media’s still not happy.

Mark Halperin complained yesterday that Obama “failed to offer a bold, paradigm-shifting budget proposal.” What? A center-left Democratic president, saddled with a massive Republican debt, has a plan to reduce the budget shortfall by $4 trillion. It includes provisions the left and right don’t like, and takes a political gamble by calling for tax increases on the wealthy.

Is this not exactly what the media establishment said it wanted? Is the only acceptable plan one that hurts Medicare, Medicaid, and low-income families?

Politico chastised the president overnight for being “partisan” and hurting Republicans’ feelings.

President Barack Obama extended a fiscal olive branch to Republicans on Wednesday. Then he beat them up with it.

Obama’s long-anticipated speech on the deficit at George Washington University was one of the oddest rhetorical hybrids of his presidency — a serious stab at reforming entitlements cloaked in a 2012 campaign speech that was one of the most overtly partisan broadsides he’s ever delivered from a podium with a presidential seal.

Fox News has condemned the “partisan” tone of yesterday’s speech over and over again.

So, if a Democratic president sounds like a Democratic president, even while tackling an issue that’s allegedly critical to Republicans, it’s a failure. Obama’s job, apparently, was to address the Republican goal, in Republican terms, while touting Republican ideas. Anything else falls short of being “bold” and “paradigm-shifting.”

For the record, while Obama delivered a spirited defense of progressive governance, he also went out of his way not to call out George W. Bush by name for his spectacular fiscal failures, and opened the door to a constructive bipartisan dialog: “I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This is a democracy; that’s not how things work. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.” As best as I can tell, he’s not any getting credit for this from those concerned about “partisanship.”

There’s no reason for so many in the media to be so annoyed. If I didn’t know better, I might think the establishment noticed that much of the left liked the speech, which necessarily led pundits to assume there was something wrong with it.

Update: The Wall Street Journal‘s increasingly ridiculous editorial page is toeing the party line, whining about “blistering partisanship.” The irony of the WSJ complaining about others’ partisanship went unnoticed.

Second Update: It’s only fair to note that while Halperin, Politico, Fox News, and the WSJ got this very wrong, there were many in the media who got the story right. Credit where credit is due.