The Obamas are having financial and professional success after leaving the Oval Office, and Tim Graham and the rest of the Media Research Center simply can't deal with it.
By Terry Krepel
In a March 15 post, a Media Research Center writer suggested that CNN's Brian Stelter doing a segment on Fox News host Tucker Carlson's incendiary and offensive rhetoric meant that he was jealous of Carlson's ratings. By that logic, we can assume that the MRC's weird fixation on how productive Barack and Michelle Obama (and how much money they've made in the process) have been after leaving the presidency is an expression of jealousy as well.
Even though Barack Obama has been out of the White House for more then three years, he and wife, Michelle, are still living rent-free in the collective heads of the MRC. This anger and frustration toward them was best summed up by MRC executive Tim Graham in a January 2020 post:
The same media elites are are eternally suspicious of all Trump business activities -- a fair topic for investigation -- have generally demonstrated a dramatic incuriosity about the Barack and Michelle Obama wealth boom. Whatever coverage bubbles up comes with a You-Go-Guys tone. Last August, TMZ reported the Obamas were buying a $15 million mansion on Martha's Vineyard. Non-Fox network coverage? Zero. In December, they actually bought said mansion for $11.75 million. Non-Fox network coverage? Again, zero.
Graham conveniently ignored the fact the president at the time he wrote that post was Trump -- whose refusal to release his taxes like every other presidential candidate of the past 40 years even Graham concedes is "a fair topic for investigation" -- while the Obamas hold no political office and had been gone from the White House for three years at the time of Graham's post. And, really, shouldn't Graham be praising the Obamas' negotiating savvy in talking down the price of the Martha's Vineyard house?
Graham, actually, seems to be really mad that the Obamas are doing well post-presidency, citing a reported $65 million publishing deal, an allegedly similarly lucrative development deal with Netflix and another deal with Spotify. Graham sneered: "Maybe the press could ask for a tax return?"
Graham's spotty partisan memory fails him again: Unlike Trump's current status, the Obamas are private citizens and their tax returns have ceased to be the public's business. Graham also omits the fact that the Obamas are earning that money, at least when it comes to the book deal; Michelle Obama's book had sold 10 million copies at the time of Graham's post.
As far as cashing in on the presidency goes, the Obamas are arguably following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, who made $2 million giving a couple of speeches in Japan after he left office. We don't recall Graham ever getting upset about that.
Graham concluded by complaining that the "spin" that the Obamas remain engaged in civil life "always works with the media elites that eagerly voted for Obama twice, and seem to promote the Obamas at any moment the Obamas wish to be promoted." By contrast, Graham would never accuse Reagan of being a post-presidency money-grubber because the spin that he's a right-wing saint always works on conservative elites like him.
The Netflix deal
The MRC's hatred of non-conservative media and its hatred of everything Obama found a nexus when Barack and Michelle signed a content development deal with Netflix.
There's actually some lead-up to this, in the form of a December 2016 post by Calista Ring trashing a made-for-Netflix film about the young Barack Obama, where she claims "most of the film focuses on Obama’s obsession with race," then sneering, "Now, it’s 35 years later, a black man named Barack Hussein Obama has been elected President of the United States twice, and still everything is about slavery for him."
When the Obamas first signed the deal in May 2018, the sneering headline on Randy Hall's NewsBusters post read, "$$$ for 'Empathy': Obamas Sign Deal with Netflix to Produce Their Kind of Movies and TV." Hall also had trouble acknowledging that Obama was president, huffing that they were "the former Democratic occupants of the White House." Hall also complained that Netflix's chief content officer is a former Obama campaign donor and that the company "named scandal-plagued former national security advisor Susan Rice to its board of directors."
In November 2018, Graham complained that the first project the Obamas optioned was the book "The Fifth Risk" from "liberal author" Michael Lewis, a book "obviously addressing the Trump administration, since it 'details the chaos at the federal departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Energy in the transition from the Obama to Trump administrations.'" Graham didn't dispute any of the evidence Lewis presented in his book.
The winner for MRC-style sneering at the Obamas over their Netflix deal, though, was Gabriel Hays, who devoted a May 2019 post to unprofessional condescension toward the Obamas:
Well, we finally have the opportunity to see what the Obamas have up their media mogul sleeves. After announcing a multi-million dollar Netflix deal, the former first couple have spilled the beans on their new streaming content, offering diehard Obama fans several options for clinging to the “Hope” and “Change” social justice dream from the comfort of their living rooms.
Hays concluded with one final sneer: "While we certainly can never get enough of that special Obama flavor, that amount of content should at least be enough to tide us over until Michelle gets into office. If you didn’t have Netflix before, this should convince you to grab a subscription. (As if.)"
The Obamas even got attacked for getting mentioned on another Netflix show. April 2020, Elise Ehrhard ranted, perhaps a bit jealous of the Obamas' post-presidency success:
The Obamas have created a very lucrative post-presidential life in the entertainment industry. Barack and Michelle Obama currently have a $50 million Netflix contract which they acquired with the help of a campaign contributor. Obama's former national security advisor, Susan Rice, is on Netflix's Board of Directors. The New York Post has even called Netflix "a propaganda machine for the Obamas."
Ehrhard ranted further after it was noted on the show that the Obama daughters can't get away with anything:
Actually, the only presidential daughters who faced any serious consequences for their teenaged mistakes were Jenna and Barbara Bush. Both Bush daughters were arrested and charged with underage drinking. Their arrests ended up on the covers of newspapers and weeklies across the country. Jenna appeared in court for underage drinking and using a false ID. The Bush daughter was ordered to undergo counseling and serve community service. The clothes she wore in the courtroom -- including Capri pants, sandals and a toe ring -- were mocked and ridiculed all over the news. Malia Obama, on the other hand, faced no consequences for appearing to smoke marijuana.
You might recall that the ConWeb tried to blame everyone but the Bush daughters for the crime they committed.
The book deal
The Obamas writing books also offends the MRC. Graham and Brent Bozell bitterly complained in their November 2018 column:
Michelle Obama has a new memoir out called Becoming. Add two words: “Very Wealthy.” The Obamas struck a reported $65 million book deal for his-and-hers memoirs, and put that next to their $50 million production deal with Netflix. They are set to cash in to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. One outlet has called them a "Billion Dollar Brand." None of their media sycophants media find this the tiniest bit controversial. They are the royal family. They cannot possibly be compensated enough.
We don't recall these two complaining about Ronald Reagan cashing in after his presidency by getting paid $2 million for a speech and other activities in Japan.
Graham and Bozell then descended into their usual whataboutism by grousing that Republican first ladies didn't get this kind of positive media coverage.
In an April 2020 post, Hays suggested without evidence that there was a direct link between allegedly Democratic-arranged money to public broadcasting in a coronavirus stimulus bill and Michelle Obama having a new show reading classic children's books on a PBS subchannel:
One also might wonder whether there’s a bit of PBS/Democrat quid pro quo that got Mrs. Obama her PBS KIDS deal after the station’s parent company, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, received a massive bailout from the government, a provision stipulated by Democrats in Congress.
A few weeks earlier, the MRC tried to exploit the pandemic by using that money to CPB as a cudgel to demand that people's careers (and possibly lives) be destroyed by cutting off federal funding to public broadcasting entirely.
Hays returned for another meltdown a week later, appalled that anyone would make a film based on a book that sold more than 10 million copies:
What many people are probably considering the lamest surprise reveal in modern history, the upcoming “top-secret” Michelle Obama Netflix documentary is coming sooner than expected and some in the media are dying of excitement to say the least.
So let’s get this straight. The Obamas were awarded a book deal worth an estimated $65 million for their memoirs, hers and then his. They also struck an estimated $50 million production deal with Netflix. (We don’t have actual numbers. Could someone in the media ask for a tax return?)
Graham was further annoyed that Ivanka Trump wrote a badly reviewed book (which he apparently hasn't read to bolster his apparent view that it's secretly better than Obama's):
Not everyone famous is praised for self-help books for women. The current president’s daughter Ivanka Trump wrote one in 2017, and the New York Times was brutal: “It reads more like the scrambled Tumblr feed of a demented 12-year-old who just checked out a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations from the library.”
Graham spent his Aug. 19 column whining that "the media see it as their job to praise everything Michelle Obama does with overwhelming enthusiasm":
Please try this imaginative exercise: When has a “news” professional ever asked Michelle Obama a challenging question? When has she ever been portrayed as anything less than Barack’s “not-so-secret weapon”? If you want to smell a whiff of authoritarianism in America, it feels almost illegal to speak one discouraging word about the first black First Lady.
Graham petulantly refused to give Michelle credit for the fact that her book sold more than 10 million copies, grousing: "It’s true she had one of the most successful books in recent years, in large part because of fierce Democratic loyalty, and in part because of endless, breathless promotion by fiercely loyal 'news' outlets."
Graham turned his attention to Michelle's husband in a September post, finding things to complain about in the announcement of the upcoming publication of Barack's memoirs: "The guy who mocked the bitter clingers to guns and religion is going to lecture about divisiveness. Obama has now split his memoirs into two volumes. This one will cover his life up through the takedown of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Don't bother looking for Reverend Wright in the index."
Graham pre-emptively declared Obama's memoir to be a fake -- never mind that it had yet to be published -- because his memoir "Dreams From My Father" was "full of fictional tales (even though it says right there in the book that "some of the characters that appear are composites of people, I've known, and some events appear out of precise chronology").
It's sad that Graham apparently has nothing else going on in his life, giving him time to spew hateful, partisan jealousy at the Obamas.
The MRC's hate for the Obamas is so immense that it took time out in the middle of the very busy runup to the 2020 presidential election to do a commercial for a "comedic play" by right-wing filmmaker Phelim McAleer called "ObamaGate" (which isn't actually a thing) that featured "the embarrassing and conspiratorial text messages of “FBI Lovebirds” Peter Strzok and Lisa Page." (Before this, the MRC had spent years promoting McAleer's previous work, a film about rogue abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.)
When the publicity machine for Barack Obama's new presidential memoir got fired up, the MRC melted down. On Nov. 12, Kristine Marsh huffed that "CNN journalists let former President Obama take a turn at spewing hate towards President Trump and the millions of Americans who voted for him ... he bashes Trump voters as racists and praises his former Vice President, Joe Biden." The next day, Rich Noyes whined that "CBS News will roll out their red carpet for the former President on Sunday, helping him sell the first volume of his memoirs on Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes. The rest of the media will surely follow."
Scott Whitlock ranted it was somehow "COLLUSION" that "Gayle King, who vacationed with the Obamas and is a Democratic donor, will score the first interview with Barack Obama as he promotes his new book." He later complained of the then-upcoming interview that "The early indications are not positive if you care at all about objectivity. The co-host encouraged Obama to lash out at Donald Trump."
Getting past the prebuttals to the actual interview, Nicholas Fondacaro grumbled that King "conducted a gooey interview" and proclaimed that "CBS’s insistence on letting King (someone who also donated to Democrats) shows they’re not a serious news organization."
Under the headline "GAG," Marsh returned to huff: "CBS’s 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley gave Gayle King a run for her money in who could be the most obnoxious, sycophantic journalist interviewing Barack Obama for his new book on Sunday. After Pelley prompted the former president to compare President Trump to a dictator who had weakened our country before our adversaries, he buttered up Obama as actually too nice to Trump and claimed Americans wanted Obama to be nastier to the sitting president." Whitlock came back to whine: "Who needs a PR machine when you have CBS News? That’s certainly the case when it comes to Barack Obama and his new book. In less than 24 hours, CBS promoted the Democrat’s new book for 48 minutes over multiple programs."
Marsh found a different network to attack over Obama: "Like the obedient lap dogs they are, MSNBC immediately took up Barack Obama’s call for the mainstream media to fight conservative media misinformation when Joe Biden is in the White House." She disingenously added regarding former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' appearance on the channel: "Gibbs immediately went to low-hanging fruit by bringing up birther conspiracies about President Obama from the fringe as if to suggest this was the kind of news being spread by most conservative media outlets, (when actually Hillary Clinton supporters actually started these conspiracies about Obama in 2008.)" In fact, the MRC passively endorsed Obama birtherism and only spoke out against it in 2016 when the eligibility of Ted Cruz -- MRC chief Brent Bozell's preferred Republican presidential candidate that year before doing the big Trump flip -- was questioned.
Joseph Norris chimed in with a claim that "In two separate segments on Monday morning’s New Day, CNN hosts Alisyn Camerota and John Berman gushed over former President Obama being invited to trash President Trump during a pair of softball CBS interviews on Sunday" and "continued to swoon over Obama’s upcoming book and media appearances," going on to grouse, "While the words of a former President should be reported on, they should not be treated with the weight and deference the partisan network provided, especially given the blatant partisan motivation behind the remarks." Whitlock returned to whine again, this time about Gayle King having "cheered the “powerful message” of Mrs. Obama going after Donald Trump again."
And Graham devoted a column to huffing about "the media's incessant and aerobic adoration of former President Barack Obama" and rehashing the complaints his MRC underlings were paid to issue about the interviews:
After four years of reflection (and a reported $65 million his and hers book advance), the Almighty Barack Obama has come forward to bless the media with a 768-page memoir and it's only volume one, with another one expected to follow. This takes the Obama-loving reader through the victorious takedown of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
Graham added: "Obviously, conservatives believe that the job of holding the news media accountable is ineluctably connected to the media's alleged watchdog role." Of course, the MRC's own "news" division, CNSNews.com, is exempt from the MRC's scrutiny, having embarrassed itself as a pro-Trump sycophant with no interest whatsoever on serving as a watchdog on its fellow conservatives.
And Marsh had yet another Obama meltdown, sneering "Gross" in the headline and ranting that "Late Show host Stephen Colbert practically bowed down before Barack Obama during a sit-down interview with the former President on his Tuesday night CBS show," while denouncing the interview as filled with "liberal smugness."
In a Feb. 18 post, Hays decided it's perfectly fine to attack the child of a (former) president, something you would never hear if that president was a Republican:
The Obama media empire continues to grow stronger as yet another Obama family member gets a cushy Hollywood gig. What’s next? The Obama dogs getting their own late night talk show?
Hays sounds like he thinks he's the one who deserved that gig.
Obama's planned podcast with Bruce Springsteen prompted even more MRC whining. Kyle Drennen huffed that the podcast was a "vanity project" and that coverage of it "made it clear journalists were still adoring fans eager for any new product being put out by the Democrat." Hays returned to ramp up the petulanace under the all-caps headline "INSUFFERABLE":
What is it with the entertainment industry giving radio and podcast gigs to people who should have shut up years ago? In what is probably another sign of the apocalypse, two of the more insufferable lefties in American history are teaming up for one podcast series.
Hays is almost entertainingly oblivious to how much he's pegging the insufferably-obnoxious meter. But will he concede that Obama was, in fact, born in the USA? The jury's still out on that.
On March 3, Marsh grumbled that Michelle Obama had a new book to sell, and that "ABC’s morning show Good Morning America was happy to act as Michelle Obama’s PR team, not only helping to sell her book to kids but also promote her well-crafted image of the wise and inspirational role model. There wasn’t one critical or tough question in the exclusive ABC interview." And on March 14, Graham was shocked -- shocked! -- that People magazine failed to a harsh right-wing takedown of Michelle Obama, under the headline "Lickspittle Olympics":
Just five weeks after their latest puffball cover story on Joe and Jill Biden, People magazine offers a cover story on Michelle Obama. The cover announced the theme: " Love, Family & What I Know Now: The former First Lady on keeping life fun, parenting grown daughters, and how marriage was shaken but stayed strong: 'I look across the room and I still see my friend'."
But aren't fluffy profiles the reason People magazine exists? Did he really expect it to give her the Hannity treatment? And hasn't the MRC spent the past four years trying to convince us that a self-proclaimed billionaire narcissist with a taste for gaudiness is the champion of working people?
Another Michelle meltdown
In an April 24 post, Whitlock whined yet again that "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King once vacationed with the Obamas and yet still "interviews powerful politicians." That seemingly was a setup for the MRC's latest manufactured outrage against Michelle Obama -- that she committed the offense of appearing in the media to promote a new project (you know, like pretty much every person with a project has ever done).Whitlock further raged in a May 7 post about King and the Obamas:
In the world of CBS, conflict of interest apparently doesn’t exist. Gayle King is a Democratic donor and Barack Obama donor. She has vacationed with the family. Yet, who lands the exclusive interview with Mrs. Obama? Gayle King of course. Sounding like a PR Democratic hack, King gushed on Friday, “Michelle Obama is still speaking out on the issues that she championed as First Lady. She is now the star and the executive producer of the Netflix show Waffles and Mochi.”
Again, Whitlock remained oblivious to the troubling conflicts of interest by his own employer. Whitlock returned to complain on May 10 (needless bolding in original):
CBS This Morning has a special connection to Democratic stars Barack and Michelle Obama. That connection's is named co-host Gayle King, an Obama donor who partied at the White House. Whenever the Obamas want a lot of air time, they can count on Gayle King. On Friday, she devoted 3 minutes and 58 seconds to fawning over Mrs. Obama. Monday saw another 14 minutes and 48 seconds for a grand total of 18 minutes and 46 seconds.
The headline on Whitlock's post ridiculously called this a "donation," though Michelle Obama is not running for any political campaign. The MRC has never called Fox News' years of fawning over Donald Trump a "donation" to him even though it certainly played a role in turning him into a political candidate.
Two days later, Whitlock huffed:
CBS is cementing its status as the official network of the Obamas. After donating 18 minutes to Michelle Obama from Friday to Tuesday, Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night offered up his entire show to her, totaling 23 minutes towards promoting the former First Lady. That’s 41 minutes in five days. Back in November, the network devoted 48 minutes to promoting Barack Obama’s memoir.
That wasn't the only Obama meltdown at the MRC around that time:
When Barack Obama did an interview with ABC, Kyle Drennen complained on June 18: "Even after years of him being out of office, ABC’s Good Morning America still swoons over Barack Obama." Is that like how even after years of him being out of office, the MRC still attacks him?