While this election season has been consumed by nasty media attacks on the Republican presidential candidates, 16 years ago the airwaves were dripping with positivity, as so-called reporters giddily celebrated the confluence of the ultra-liberal Kennedy family (a.k.a., “Camelot”) and the hard-left Obama campaign.
Just one week before the big Super Tuesday primaries (held on February 5 that year), and only a couple of days after Obama trounced Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina primary, Senator Ted Kennedy, along with his son, Patrick, and JFK’s daughter, Caroline, endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination.
The New York Times helpfully donated its op-ed pages for Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement (headlined: “A President Like My Father”) on January 27. She wrote admiringly of Obama: “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president.”
The media, thrilled, justified their wall-to-wall coverage by suggesting vast swaths of the country (rather than liberals living in a tiny corridor of the Northeast) would be mesmerized by the obviously-choreographed campaign event.
“It’s been 45 years since a Kennedy has been in the White House, and yet because of the American fascination with the family name, and the family business of politics, the Kennedy name still has the power to grab the attention of millions of Americans,” NBC’s Brian Williams claimed on the January 28, 2008 Nightly News.
“Of all the memorable images of this campaign, Barack Obama has never had a moment quite like this,” NBC correspondent Lee Cowan cooed a few minutes later. “The endorsement brought the Kennedy mystique to this campaign, not in a whisper, but a roar.”
“Today, the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny,” ABC’s David Wright cheered on World News. “The Kennedy clan anointed Barack Obama a son of Camelot.”
That evening on Nightline, anchor Terry Moran teased: “Tonight on Nightline, new son of Camelot. Ted and Caroline Kennedy pass the torch to Barack Obama to carry the legacy of JFK….”
Soon Wright was back with an even more fawning report: “No mere endorsement this, more like a political anointment from the Kennedys, merging ideals from two different eras….Obama is now an adopted son of Camelot. His candidacy blessed not just by the Lion of the Senate, patriarch of the clan, but by JFK’s daughter.”
Over on MSNBC’s Hardball, host Chris Matthews was over the moon. “Today we got a glimpse of the early 1960s, when politics was alive,” he crowed. “Not the gauzy images of Camelot, but the living spirit of the New Frontier.”
A few minutes later, Matthews ludicrously exclaimed: “It was King Arthur coming back from the Crusades to endorse Robin Hood!”
The next morning, CBS’s Harry Smith rivaled Matthews’s excitement, pronouncing Obama “the heir to Camelot.”
“It feels like the ’60s are back,” Smith beamed on the January 29 Early Show, before he weirdly cast a political endorsement as a secular sacrament: “In the civic religion that is Democratic politics, the most treasured covenant was passed to the young Senator from Illinois.”
CBS’s giddy on-screen graphic: “The Kennedys Are B(ar)ack!”
As Obama rode atop the media’s shoulders to win both the Democratic nomination and the presidency, the candidate’s sycophants continued their “Camelot” myth-making. When Obama clinched his party’s nomination in June, MSNBC’s Matthews told Politico’s Roger Simon it was a “magic moment for a lot of Americans, in fact, me included.”
Over images of the Obama family celebrating, Matthews declared: “That picture is right out of Camelot, as far as I’m concerned.”
On November 7, after Obama won the White House, CBS’s Smith reached again for the Kennedy comparisons: “Many Americans can’t help but draw similarities between him and the late President John F. Kennedy….The similarities are striking. JFK was 43 when he was inaugurated. Obama is just three years older, bringing a certain youthful vigor to the White House, including, young children….Kennedy had more than his share of charisma and Obama knows how to light up a room. But it’s their wives who might be the real superstars.”
Smith’s co-host, Julie Chen, wondered: “Can the Obamas bring that ‘one brief shining moment,’ that was known as Camelot, back to the White House?”
The following August, after Ted Kennedy died, Chris Matthews declared Obama was a member of the family: “[Ted Kennedy] just wanted to bring back what Bobby and Jack had given us. He wanted to be his brother’s brother. And then he turned that torch over last year to Barack Obama,” Matthews spun on NBC’s Today on August 26, 2009. “Barack is now the last brother.”
And they say Trumpism is a cult.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.