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September 22, 2008

Smears, Lies, and Videotape: When A Corrupt Media Hijacks an Election

In a fascinating article, Todd Spivak does some digging and angers the Senator from Illinois:

It's not quite eight in the morning and Barack Obama is on the phone screaming at me. He liked the story I wrote about him a couple weeks ago, but not this garbage.

Months earlier, a reporter friend told me she overheard Obama call me an asshole at a political fund-raiser. Now here he is blasting me from hundreds of miles away for a story that just went online but hasn't yet hit local newsstands.

It's the first time I ever heard him yell, and I'm trembling as I set down the phone. I sit frozen at my desk for several minutes, stunned.

The good Senator, it seems, doesn't like having his past examined. As questions about his record accumulate, so does the list of Obama documents which have gotten "lost". But unlike human beings, newspaper articles can't be intimidated by Obama's digital brownshirts:

When asked about his legislative record, Obama rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker.

He expanded children's health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects.

And the list goes on.

It's a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what's interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative ­achievements.

Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor's office as well as both legislative chambers.

The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James "Pate" Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama's. He became Obama's ­kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio ­program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

"He said, 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"

"Oh, you are? Who might that be?"

"Barack Obama."

Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen," State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. "Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

"I don't consider it bill jacking," Hendon told me. "But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book."

During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama's stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.

It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn't have done it without Jones.

Before Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was virtually unknown even in his own state. Polls showed fewer than 20 percent of Illinois voters had ever heard of Barack Obama.

Jones further helped raise Obama's profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news ­headlines.

...So how has Obama repaid Jones?

Last June, to prove his commitment to government transparency, Obama released a comprehensive list of his earmark requests for fiscal year 2008. It comprised more than $300 million in pet projects for Illinois, including tens of millions for Jones's Senate district.

A very disturbing picture is beginning to emerge here.

It's bad enough when the press prove themselves either reluctant or incapable of performing the impartial watchdog function they claim as justification for the evading the law:

... many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama's distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.

We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.

Indeed, one reason that candidates get away with dishonest campaign ads and speeches may be that it is so hard for undecided voters like me to discern which charges are true, which are exaggerated, and which are false. Most people can't spend hours every day cross-checking diverse sources of information to verify the accuracy of slanted stories and broadcasts such as these:

* In Sarah Palin's first big media interview, on September 11, Charlie Gibson of ABC News asked: "You said recently, in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a holy war?" Palin responded: "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote." Gibson pressed: "Exact words."

Viewers had no way of knowing that, in fact, Gibson was distorting Palin's meaning by leaving out critical context and thus making an unremarkable exhortation to prayer sound like a declaration of holy war. Palin had not said that the war was a task from God. She had urged her listeners to "pray" that it was a task from God. A September 3 Associated Press report by Gene Johnson distorted Palin's meaning in exactly the same way.

* A front-page story in the September 12 Washington Post, by Anne Kornblut, was headlined: "Palin Links Iraq to Sept. 11 in Talk to Troops in Alaska." This was misleading, as were the first two paragraphs. They implied that Palin had advanced the long-discredited "idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." In fact, Palin's reasonably clear meaning was not that Saddam had a role in the 9/11 attacks but that (as the article backhandedly acknowledged) the troops would be fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is related to the group that launched the 9/11 attacks.

* The New York Times did a huge (3,120-word) front-page story on February 21 implying that McCain had had a sexual affair with a female lobbyist while doing her political favors. But the article lacked strong evidence either that there had been a sexual affair or that McCain had crossed legal or ethical lines to do favors. Would The Times have printed the same story had the senator been Barack Obama or John Kerry? I doubt it.

* The Times also rushed to assert, in a front-page story on September 2 questioning how carefully McCain vetted Palin's background, that she "was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede." This turned out to be erroneous. (Her husband had previously been a member.)

This is not to deny that McCain deserves much of the criticism he has received for his distortions about Obama. But not all of it. Take the ad on which the most-bitter media complaints -- "blizzard of lies" and the like -- have focused. It asserts that Obama's "one accomplishment" in the area of education was "legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners."

But the bill was not Obama's (he was not a sponsor), was not an accomplishment (it never passed), and would not have been his "only" accomplishment even if it had passed. More important, it called for extending only "age appropriate" sex ed from sixth grade down to kindergarten. There is no reason to doubt Obama's explanation that he wanted kindergartners to be taught only the dangers of inappropriate touching.

But a Times editorial overstated the case in saying that "the kindergarten ad flat-out lies" and that "at most, kindergartners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators." In fact, whatever Obama's intention, the bill itself was designed "to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children below sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten," as Byron York demonstrates in a detailed National Review Online article.

What are we to think when major papers like the Washington Post and NY Times employ unwarranted terms like "lies" and "smears" in a blatantly one-sided attempt to sway public opinion just before a national election? How many readers of the Times know that the legislation in question - the Freedom of Choice Act - does in fact (according to the National Organization for Women) do all of the things Obama opponents say it does? So if we are to believe NOW, it is the NY Times, and not Barack Obama's opponents in Virginia, who are spreading "lies" and "smears":

Posing as a mere “issue advocacy” operation, the group’s ad attacks Mr. Obama’s character and accuses him of “lying” about his abortion record. In truth, it trashes the candidate’s nuanced position. It even employs an Obama-like voice pledging to make taxpayers pay for abortions, help minors conceal abortions from their parents, and legalize late-term abortions.

The Times' highly nuanced position about the truth must include the "right" not to inform its readers that Barack Obama has pledged that, should he become President, his first act will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. It must also include the nuanced belief that informing registered voters of a position the candidate himself has openly announced amounts to an attack on his character: a "smear". One wonders which factors The Times thinks voters ought to be allowed to consider when deciding which candidates they will vote for?

Apparently both the issues and the candidate's public record are off limits, as are his campaign's serial attempts to intimidate anyone who attempts to raise questions Mr. Obama prefers not to answer. There have been recent reports that the press are beginning to circle the wagons; that they are furious at being subjected to the same harsh scrutiny and criticism they routinely level at the subjects of their stories. If it weren't so hypocritical, their outrage would be amusing.

For years, the reading public has been told that the justification for a free and vigorous press is that human beings are inherently evil, power corrupts, and that even though there are numerous vehicles built into government for addressing abuses, somehow only the "power" of an absolutely free and unhindered press can save us from the wrong/bad ravages of our awful public servants. But who watches the watchdogs who, one can't help but note, are also human beings, also inherently fallible, and who as members of the Fourth Estate, wield a vast, unchecked power to destroy lives and reputations, sway public opinion, and control what we see and hear?

The answer, according to the media, is that we should just trust them to police themselves. After all, journalists are a special class of people who ought to be exempted from obeying the laws the rest of us must follow. Of course, we can trust them never to abuse this privilege.

How do we know? Because they're unbiased. They've told us this time and time again.

The good thing about all of this is, if anything truly important comes us that might change the course of the election, we can count on the press to investigate it.

You can take that to the bank.

Posted by Cassandra at September 22, 2008 08:34 AM

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Call me cynical, but I have to believe that there's simply no story here, otherwise I would have read about it already in the New York Times.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 22, 2008 12:18 PM

And here's a perfect example of how truly unbiased the New York Times is:

McCain's ad begins, ''Barack Obama: Born of the corrupt Chicago political machine.'' That's an inaccurate statement -- Obama wasn't a machine candidate in the state Senate or in the U.S. Senate primary. However, he has been backed by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other establishment Democrats since he got the Senate nomination in 2004 and has worked with them.

The ad goes on to list establishment Democrats and their connection to Obama -- some stronger than others.

It is true that Obama's fundraiser Tony Rezko is a convicted felon. And his political mentor, state Senate President Emil Jones, has an array of relatives with state jobs, arranged for his son to take over his Senate seat next year and has dragged his feet on ethics legislation.

Obama did endorse his fellow Illinois Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich for re-election despite questions about his ethics, but the two are not particularly close. It's also true that William Daley has been an adviser. But it's not surprising Obama would seek economic advice from a former Commerce secretary.

See? The Times is acknowledging that McCain lied.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 22, 2008 12:28 PM

At last! A person of superior intelligence, taste, and discretion; a veritable paragon of critical thinking skills! Dare I hope... possibly even a non-brain dead white woman???

Posted by: Bill Keller at September 22, 2008 12:30 PM

The New York Times:

All the Memes That Are Fit to Print!

(Just think if they printed mimes. That would REALLY be annoying.)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 22, 2008 03:00 PM

[trying to escape from box]

Que-est ce que c'est???

I feel crushed by the weight of spd rdr's hateful partisan hackery.

*sighing tragically as I fight against the imaginary Chill Wind*

Posted by: Marcel Marceaux at September 22, 2008 04:11 PM

Ah, Marcel, please to come closer. Since departing from old country many years ago, have had little opportunity to play favorite sport: Whack-a-mime!

Posted by: a former european at September 22, 2008 06:18 PM

But I am only a figure pressing against the oncoming wind. A mere "soul" as Descartes might have plucked from the breeze to wonder at, as if we souls had the strength to object.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 22, 2008 08:27 PM

While we were Hurricane Ike Refugees last week, we took MathLad to look at Colorado School of Mimes. He performed an impromptu "Lizard in a Jar" mime which impressed the admissions officer. But he had forgotten to pack his white gloves and little beret - that was probably points taken away. Another embarrassing slip - he wore the traditional black-and-white striped shirt, but found out too late that at Mimes they use a red plaid shirt and a hardhat. That shows the value of a little research - perhaps he'll learn from this experience.

Oh, well. We'll see!

Posted by: MathMom at September 22, 2008 10:17 PM

Hey. There's no place places for mimes in mines. But mimes in minefields, that's another story.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 22, 2008 10:24 PM

*exploding, silently* :)

Posted by: Marcel Marceaux at September 22, 2008 11:18 PM

obviously no one here lives in Illinois. it is no laughing matter. our dim gov who the "O" backed is hated universally by the GOP and Dems alike. he is under investigation and will be in jail, sadly, after he has run our state even further into the ground. but that is our tradition. Obama came up from the sewer of Chicago politics and is as dirty as they come. I hope McCain keeps after this. obama and the machine want to bring to the nation what they have brought to my great state. it is NOT pretty. illinois is a red state in a blue state body just waiting to show our Republican roots!

Posted by: zeke at September 23, 2008 01:17 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 09/23/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at September 23, 2008 02:19 PM