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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Newsweek Puff Piece and Presidential Politics

John McCain is a war hero. He spent nearly six years getting bones broken in defense of his country. After that he has served his country in public office for the rest of his entire adult life. That is the backdrop to a fairly good puff piece. If the media wanted to build up John McCain, they would all sorts of great material to work with. Yet, the MSM has done a dubious story about a supposed nefarious relationship with a female lobbyist, his old age, and his temper. We haven't yet seen any write up about how his courage and patriotism has prepared him for the Presidency.

Now, Barack Obama on the other hand, has just been showered with nothing but good press. The latest is this ridiculous puff piece by Newsweek.

How do you know if Barack Obama is unhappy with what you're saying— or not saying? At meetings of his closest advisers, he likes to lean back, put his feet on the table and close his eyes. If he doesn't like how the conversation is going, he will lean forward, put his feet on the floor and "adjust his socks, kind of start tugging at them," says Michael Strautmanis, a counselor to the campaign. Obama wants people to talk, but he doesn't want to intimidate them. "If you haven't said anything, he'll call on you," says Strautmanis. "He's never said it, but he usually thinks if somebody is very quiet it's because they disagree with what everybody is saying … so Barack will call on you and say, 'You've been awfully quiet'." There are no screamers on Team Obama; one senior Obama aide says he's heard him yell only twice in four years. Obama was explicit from the beginning: there was to be "no drama," he told his aides. "I don't want elbowing or finger-pointing. We're going to rise or fall together." Obama wanted steady, calm, focused leadership; he wanted to keep out the grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters spoke up. A good formula for running a campaign—or a presidency.


It worked against Hillary Clinton, whose own campaign has been rent by squabbling aides and turf battles. While Clinton veered between playing Queen Elizabeth I and Norma Rae, Obama and his team chugged along with a superior 50-state campaign strategy, racking up the delegates. If the candidate seemed weary and peevish or a little slow to respond at times, he never lost his cool. But the real test is yet to come. The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities. The 2008 race may turn on which party will win the lower- and middle-class whites in industrial and border states—the Democrats' base from the New Deal to the 1960s, but "Reagan Democrats" in most presidential elections since then. It is a sure bet
that the GOP will try to paint Obama as "the other"—as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters.


But Team Obama has been consistently able to outstrategize the opposition, and it does have a plan for the coming mud war. In conversations with NEWSWEEK, Obama's aides have signaled their intention to put McCain on the spot. They note that McCain himself has been the victim of a smear. In the South Carolina primary in 2000, GOP operatives spread the rumor that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Recently, when a reporter asked McCain, "Does it bother you at all that you might actually benefit from latent prejudice in the country?" he answered: "That would bother me a lot. That would bother me a great deal." And last week his wife, Cindy, told NBC News, "My husband is absolutely opposed to any negative campaigning at all." So if McCain's camp does try to exploit Obama's ties to the fiery Reverend Wright, the Obama-ites can question his sincerity—is he really the "Straight Talk" candidate? And if McCain can't stop others from the sort of innuendo and code that Republicans have learned to frighten voters, Obama can cast doubt on McCain's credentials as a commander in chief. ("In other words," says liberal political pundit Mark Shields, "they can say that McCain is either a hypocrite or impotent.")

Now, every observation in this piece is up to the eye of the beholder. For instance, the writers interviewed his staffers and found (surprise, surprise) that he is cool, calm, and collected. His staff presented a candidate totally in charge, strictly against infighting, and meticulous in making sure that dissenting opinions are heard. I guess it is mere coincidence that this is exactly the way in which the campaign would like to be presented.

Of course, this is all nonsense. Obama certainly didn't look very in control during his last debate. This campaign which the writers portray as a well oiled machine was certainly caught back on their heels when the Reverend Wright story first broke. While the campaign is presented as cool and in control that doesn't stop staffers from speaking out of turn like when Samantha Power called Hillary a monster and was summarily removed.

The campaign maybe presented as a model of discipline, calm, and command, however the piece seems to miss the fact that this campaign has gone through plenty of turmoil. Like I said, the entire piece is presented as fact while the observations are completely in the eye of the beholder.

Then, there is the part that has the Republicans and the McCain camp up in arms.

But the real test is yet to come. The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities

Once again, we have an observation presented as fact. It is as though the only party that has ever pulled dirty tricks is the Republican party. I guess the writers don't remember Ted Kennedy's view of Robert Bork.

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, children could not be taught about evolution

I suppose the writers missed the smear campaign perpetrated against Judge Clarence Thomas and Judge Sam Alito. I suppose the writers forgot about this hit piece on George Bush in 2000.

Background sound: deep, eerie metallic; later fade in low clanking] Renee Mullins (voice over): I’m Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter.

On June 7, 1998 in Texas my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged 3 miles to his death, all because he was black.

So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.

Call Governor George W. Bush and tell him to support hate-crime legislation. We won’t be dragged away from our future.

Furthermore, the implication that it is the Republicans that are known for smears implies some sort of purity on Obama's part. Here is how Republican strategist Mark Salter responded to that charge.

Without a trace of skepticism, your reporters embraced the primary communications strategy the Obama campaign intends to follow: any criticism of their candidate is a below the belt, Republican attack machine distortion that should discredit the authors. And any attempt by our campaign to counter that suggestion will be dismissed as a rant. The other day, Senator Obama noted that Representative DeFazio's accusation that Senator McCain was up to his neck in the Keating Five scandal was a legitimate line of attack, despite the fact the Senator was largely exonerated by the Senate Ethics Committee, whose special counsel declared he had been kept in the investigation only because of his party affiliation. Were we to raise the Rezko matter, their campaign would accuse us of distracting voters with a low blow by making more of a "flimsy relationship" than the facts warranted. Evan and Richard, I feel certain, would agree.

Furthermore, Obama has systematically distorted McCain's position on long term troop presence in Iraq.

Frankly, I wouldn't have a problem with any of this if this piece were an editorial. It isn't. This piece is presented as a straight news story as though the authors looked at both sides of the issue and came to a balanced conclusion. The same way in which MSM presents McCain's anger, age, and unsupported nefarious relationships with lobbyists as straight news, so to do they present Obama as some sort of cool, calm and in control candidate as straight news. The MSM is determined to put Obama into office and they are apparently willing to go to all lengths to do it.


Anonymous said...

Over the past several years, as I have awoken politically, MSM editorializing and calling it news has bothered me greatly.

So here is what I do. Anyone who is “selling news” I think of the same way as any corporation who is “selling a product”. Where the goal is to find or create evidence and present it in a way that supports the product.

So instead of looking at folks like Newsweek and NYT as being biased news outlets, I look at them as selling a product for liberals. And so all there news will attract liberals and those with their eyes still closed.

So from a business perspective, the product no longer bothers me because it doesn’t attract me or compel me to use my dollars to buy it.

From a business standpoint, MSM is losing business. They need to adjust the product or they will continue to go down.

I for one think that America is starving for some fact based “News” for change. Something that is fast and accurate. Something that can be trusted. I’m not holding my breath.

mike volpe said...

I agree entirely with your analysis and frankly it is stunning to see the MSM continue with the blatant bias even though it so clearly hurts their bottom line.

As far as market forces are concerned, I agree their actions are punished.

That said, while they continue to do this at their own peril, the MSM still has plenty of influence in the world, and thus, while it hurts them, it also ultimately effects the dynamic of the Presidential race.

While this may not bother you because you see this as only hurting their bottom line. You should note that it will have a profound effect on the race this year.