A new Rolling Stone interview with the president shows subservience to power, not partisan favor, is what drives the press corps
The Rolling Stone’s Douglas Brinkley, in a screen grab from CNN, speaks about his new interview with the President. Photograph: CNN
Last month, Vanity Fair featured a major profile of President Obama by Michael Lewis, who was given what the New York Times called “rare” and “extraordinary access”. Lewis “conducted multiple interviews with the president”; “rode in the official presidential limousine”; “was given a special lapel pin that identified him to the Secret Service as someone who was allowed to be in close proximity to the president”; and “flew with the president on several foreign and domestic trips” — “not with the rest of the press corps in the back of Air Force One, but near the front.” And, noted the Times, “the president even allowed Mr. Lewis to play on his basketball team.”
But in exchange for such access, Lewis, unbeknownst to readers of his profile, had agreed to a journalistically corrupt practice – now banned by many large media outlets – whereby the only quotes he was permitted to use were ones the White House approved in advance. Unsurprisingly, the profile was pure hagiography that left Obama’s most devoted media fans gushing with ecstacy.
Though I would have thought it impossible, Rolling Stone somehow just managed to top that profile when it comes to sycophantic, power-worshiping “journalism”. This week, it features a cover story on Obama by its contributing editor, the historian Douglas Brinkley, largely based on a 45-minute interview in the Oval Office. The questions Brinkley posed are so vapid and reverent that it is hard to believe it’s not satire.
Most of his questions are some iteration of asking Obama: Seriously, how heinous is Mitt Romney? How gross is he? And really, how great are you? Just behold some of the questions which this historian and journalist – given the opportunity for a one-on-one interview with the president of the United States – chose to ask, beginning with the first four of the interview: