And the thing is, journalists recognize this. Political journalists know how politics and diplomacy actually work, and they know that the global balance of power is shifting (indeed, that was one of the other recurring themes in the coverage). So, in all likelihood, they are not actually surprised that Barack Obama has failed to “fix” the issues surrounding America’s relationship with China by sheer force of personality. This sort of frame constructs and takes apart a straw man: “If you don’t think much about this stuff you might have expected big news on this trip, but guess what—you were wrong!”

Fair enough, but isn’t it a reporter’s job to explain how the world really works, not just to reinforce lazy notions? It would have been much more interesting—and honest—to frame the story like this: “No big news was made, but we shouldn’t have expected it. As for long-term ramifications, here’s Obama’s plan, and here’s his timeline. What will he have to do in order to accomplish his goals? What are the odds that he will accomplish them? How might this trip pay benefits—or create risks—down the road?”

It is no indictment of Barack Obama that his personal charms did not sway Chinese policy. It’s a minor indictment of the media that they feigned surprise at that outcome.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.