If the president were a conservative Republican rather than a liberal Democrat, I have little doubt that much of the legacy press would be focused more on what is wrong with America. There would be more negative reporting about the economy, more criticism of policy failures and many more withering comparisons between promise and performance. The contrast between a rising stock market and poor jobs performance that the press now doesn’t think of blaming on President Obama would be reported as demonstrating a systemic bias in favor of the rich and the powerful if George W. Bush were in the White House. The catastrophic decline in African-American net worth during the last four years would, if we had a Republican president, be presented in the press as illustrating the racial indifference or even the racism of the administration. As it is, it is just an unfortunate reality, not worth much publicity and telling us nothing about the intentions or competence of the people in charge.
The current state of the Middle East would be reported as illustrating the complete collapse of American foreign policy—if Bush were in the White House. The criticism of drone strikes and Guantanamo that is now mostly confined to the far left would be mainstream conventional wisdom, and the current unrest in the Middle East would be depicted as a response to American militarism. The in and out surge in Afghanistan would be mercilessly exposed as a strategic flop, reflecting the naive incompetence of an inexperienced president out of his depth. The SEALS rather than the White House would be getting the credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, and there would be more questions about whether killing him and then bragging endlessly and tastelessly about it was a contributing factor to the current unrest. Political cartoons of Cheney spiking the football would be everywhere. It’s also likely we would have heard much more about how killing Osama was strategically unimportant as he had become an increasingly symbolic figure and there would have been a lot of detailed and focused analysis of how the foolish concentration on bin Laden led the clueless Bush administration to neglect the rise of new and potentially much more dangerous Islamist groups in places like Mali. The Libyan war would be widely denounced as an unconstitutional act of neocon militarism, with much more attention paid to the civilian casualties during the war, the chaos that followed, and the destabilizing effects on the neighborhood. The White House fumbling around the Benghazi murders would be treated like a major scandal and dominate the news for at least a couple of weeks.
If Bush were in the White House, the Middle East would be a horrible disaster, and it would all be America’s fault.
Many Americans still get their daily newspapers out of habit. We like the funnies, and we have the habit of looking at the box scores, even though by morning we've already had all the sports information we need for many hours over the Internet. But we don't read much of the news, and we don't read the op-eds, because we know they are irretrievably biased. Pretty soon people like me will simply wake up and say I don't need to spend a couple of hundred smacks a year on a newspaper, not when information is so much easier to get online, and wifi is increasingly everywhere.
The decline of newspapers is happening as we speak, and like all deaths, when it comes, it will happen all of a sudden. One day they'll be there, the next they won't.