Upon rereading the the New York Times story about John McCain and his possible infidelity/impropriety/imprudence…or whatever with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, what stands out to me, when you get right down to it, is how little there is of substance.
But the McCain story that’s causing all the recent talk is not the only NY Times piece in the past week that presents itself as a juicy spiller of secrets then ends up being colossally undersourced and propped up mainly by innuendo.
There are also couple of perplexing pieces about Barack Obama that have me, the New Yorker’s Henrick Herzberg and some of my journalism students all shaking our collective heads in dismay.
We’ll get to the other two in a minute. But first the McCain story:
The body of the John McCain article talks mostly about McCain’s conscious choice to fashion himself as a Straight Shooter: the Man Whose Favors Cannot Be Bought. And then the writers get to the really damning part:
“He is essentially an honorable person,” said William P. Cheshire, a friend of Mr. McCain who as editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic defended him during the Keating Five scandal. “But he can be imprudent.”
Imprudent? Oh, no! Not that!!! The horror.
Surely there’s more. Yet, when it comes to the “beef” of the article, it keeps collapsing, like those sad, sick cattle in that awful beef recall-triggering video. The most the reporters seem to suggest is that maybe McCain enjoyed the attentions of Mrs. McCain-ringer Iseman a bit too much. (Or maybe not.) And perhaps in his conviction that he’s Mr. Squeaky Clean, McCain failed to eliminate anything that even smacked of conflict of interest. Alright possibly. But there’s no smoking gun. A damp water pistol, maybe. But that’s about it.
If there is a smoking gun, by all means trot that puppy out. But a whisper-filled story filled with what if’s and maybe’s from eight years ago? Come on!
Which brings us to the Obama articles:
In this week’s New Yorker, Hendrik Herzberg writes about the New York Times Feb. 9 article headlined “Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life”. In the Times piece, the first two paragraphs are a tease about Obama’s “party life” leading the reader to believe that something scandalous is about to be revealed. Then, a full five paragraphs down from the top Times writer Serge Kovalesky finally drops the following bombshell about Obama’s drug use:
Mr. Obama’s account of his younger self and drugs, though, significantly differs from the recollections of others [OMG! OMG! HERE IT COMES!!!] …..who do not recall his drug use. [WHAT????]That could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic.
In more than three dozen interviews, friends, classmates and mentors from his high school and Occidental recalled Mr. Obama as being grounded, motivated and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed to dabble only with marijuana.
Say what???So, let me get this straight: After interviewing more than 36 people, the New York Times has discovered that Barack Obama may have smoked LESS of the devil weed in his youth than he has remembered in print? And, as Hertzberg puts it:
The news here is—what, exactly? That Obama, who now appears grounded, motivated, and poised, formerly appeared grounded, motivated, and poised? That his inner uncertainties, such as they were, were more apparent to himself than to others? That he was marginally less of a pothead than he has made himself out to be?
Now keep in mind this was a reasonably long, prominently-placed article complete with a large photo of the youthful Obama looking suspiciously……young.
And on February 12, the Times ran another bombshell “investigative” article about Barack Obama. This remarkably source-free story written by Ginger Thompson suggests darkly:
Aides to Mr. Obama, who asked not to be identified because the campaign would not authorize them to speak to the press, said he stayed away from a civil rights demonstration and did not publicize visits to black churches when he was struggling to win over white voters in Iowa.
But that’s not all:
[Obama chief strategist] Mr. Axelrod said he had learned there was “a certain physics” to winning votes across racial lines. Previous campaigns by African-Americans — the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton — had overwhelmingly relied on black support that wound up defining, and confining, their candidacies.
By contrast, from the moment Mr. Obama stepped onto the national political stage, he has paid as much attention — or more, some aides said — to a far broader audience. [OMG!!!! Really????? How shocking!!!] “He believes you can have the support of the black community, appealing to the pride they feel in his candidacy, and still win support among whites,” Mr. Axelrod said.
Questions about Mr. Obama’s “blackness,” though, quickly threatened to obscure the reasons he believed himself most qualified to become the country’s next president…..
Again, the Times huffs and puffs as if to blow down at least a wing of the house of some candidate or other—in this case Obama— and comes up with…jack all. Okay, they’ve uncovered the he fact that race sometimes enters into or affects the campaign of the country’s frontrunning African American presidential candidate, and that mostly he tries to rise above it but occasionally makes strategic decisions. Ya, think??? Move over Woodward and Bernstein.
Listen: I don’t want to see John McCain become president. But if he loses, let him lose for a real reason. Not because the New York Times feels that the best way to boost their falling readership is to turn into a gossip rag.
Admittedly, when the NY Times is good it’s very, very good indeed. But when it’s bad….it gives us war-hawking Judy Miller and, to a hopefully less consequential degree, the claptrap outlined above.
It’s not pretty, and it’s not good journalism.