On Jan. 25, 1961, the dashing new president of the United States delivered the first presidential press conference to be televised live. Amid numerous questions about tensions with the Soviet Union and upcoming domestic legislation came this query: "Mr. President, there has been some apprehension about the instantaneous broadcasts of presidential press conferences such as this one, and the contention being that an inadvertent statement is no longer correctible, as in the old days, could possibly cause some grave consequences. Do you feel that there is any risk or could you give us some thought on that?"
To realize just how bad things have gotten in the newspaper industry, consider the following list of casualties: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ended its print edition; it now exists only on the Web. The Rocky Mountain News shut its doors completely (the paper's Web site sits frozen in its Feb. 27 version, like a watch that stopped at the moment of a nuclear explosion). The parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer filed for bankruptcy. In a last-ditch bid to keep their paper from folding, workers at The San Francisco Chronicle accepted a painful new contract that could cut the newsroom staff by a third. All these events occurred just in the last month.
A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street.
Even though his mishandling of the economic crisis in September may have cost him the election, Sen. John McCain has been one of the most vocal critics of the stimulus package. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Imagine that you pick up your copy of The New York Times and see a front-page article proclaiming that John Kerry is now such the linchpin of debate in Washington that he has taken "center stage." Then you surf over to one of the Sunday morning talk shows to find George Stephanopoulos or Bob Schieffer interviewing Michael Dukakis. Then you turn your radio and hear a story on NPR about Bob Dole's objections to the president's latest legislative initiative. You'd probably ask yourself, What is going on here? Why am I being forced to listen to these people?
If you go into a chain bookstore these days, you're likely to see an entire wall devoted to books about Barack Obama. Some are collections of photographs from the campaign, some are aimed at kids (Meet President Obama!), some are meant to be a little more thoughtful (answering the question, "What does Obama mean?"), and a few are warnings about the road to disaster he's leading us down. You can see it online as well; search Amazon.com for "Obama" in the books section, and you receive 4,388 results. Among the seven books in the "Cooking, Food and Wine" section are The Obama Menu, and books like The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, which apparently mentions him somewhere in its pages.