Running down the press:
Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr. revealed his dream, Barack Obama becomes king for a day.
Now that is change.
Crowned by the Democratic Party, Obama spoke last night of the “promise” of America. Wearing a crown of thorns, King said way back in 1963 (full text):
And last night in Denver those little black children and little white children, now adults, did hold hands to cheer a black man’s nomination for president. And they weren’t just from Alabama.
Too bad the daily press hasn’t changed. As political campaigns get more and more clever, the big papers don’t.
Here’s a small, but telling, example from this morning’s New York Times lead story. It reminds me that I have a dream that Adam Nagourney will no longer cover political campaigns. His co-bylined story notes:
The advertisement stood in stark contrast to a summer of slashing attacks on Mr. Obama by Mr. McCain that apparently contributed to the tightening of this race. And the softer tone did not last; Mr. Obama was still on the stage, watching the fireworks, when Mr. McCain’s campaign issued a statement attacking him.
“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama,” said Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for Mr. McCain.
The GOP campaign strategy worked, thanks to the Times.
Very gracious of McCain to release that TV ad, notwithstanding his surprisingly insincere visage and the soppy background music. A sound move, too, because at the same time McCain gets the paper of broken record to rip Obama through the device of quoting some minion named Tucker Bounds.
What you do as a journalist — what most journalists don’t do — is simply not directly quote campaign flacks when they’re just flacking you. What they say on the record is almost always not news; it’s advertising.
Now, if McCain were to say what Bounds said, that’s a quote you should use, juxtaposing it with the TV ad.
But the McCain campaign no doubt knew that the Times, in its establishment way, would have no qualms letting McCain speak out of one side of the mouth and one of his flacks speak out of the other. Through some mistaken notion of journalistic “balance,” that allowed McCain to come off as 100 percent gracious.
My own policy as a reporter was to not quote spokesmen or flacks when they’re not making news and to avoid using their names in those cases so that they don’t get mistaken as people who count.
Don’t let the surrogates birth the pols’ ugly babies. If the candidate wants to say something like what Bounds said, quote him or her. Otherwise, don’t use it. You’re just playing into the campaigns’ hands. You’re writing your story for them, for your sources’ interests, not for your readers or their interests.
Stepping down from the soapbox, I’ll note that the other major part of Nagourney’s unintentional flackery on behalf of the McCain campaign was this line of analysis:
Race has had nothing to do with the “tightening,” right? In the world of reporters’ egos, it’s the “slashing attacks” they report that are making a difference.
We’re still waiting for McCain to reveal his veep choice.
Will it be a woman? Will it be a black woman? Will it be Condi Rice? No.
Will it be Tim Pawlenty? The Democrats should hope so.
Will it be Dick Cheney? Certainly not, but I hope so. I’m just being selfish because we’re not quite finished slapping him upside the head for the troubles he’s brought down on our heads.
Helluva yarn on its face, but the paper fell on its face. The lede:
Retired NYPD Detective Athelston Kelson, 59, surrendered with his lawyer Thursday in Queens on charges of robbing banks at gunpoint while wearing flashy rings and a gold watch that could make a rapper drool, sources said.
Fascinating story. And the best copout for crime that we’ve heard in a while:
Liver and onions.
But don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good excuse. The Post‘s version of Kelson’s probable motivation for his alleged crime spree is more believable:
Asked if he was in need of money, she said, “I’m sure he is, because the court just awarded me . . . oh, I can’t talk about it.”
She said the first caper came about the time the judgment came down.
Post: ‘STAR IN SEX REHAB’
The paper’s best headline writers must be on vacation. This juicy little wire story about David Duchovny‘s alleged sex addiction merited at least something referring to “The Sex Files.”
The Daily News‘s more lengthy story at least tried to do something with the lede:
David Duchovny, who plays a randy writer in the Showtime series “Californication,” is in a rehab center for sex addiction.
On the other hand, the News didn’t have provide much evidence that Duchovny’s supposed addiction was in any way destructive:
“We were just all over each other – the sauna wasn’t going to stop me,” said Duchovny, “and I recovered pretty quickly.”
Tea, however, passed out.
Oh, so the guy had steamy sex with his wife. He couldn’t take his hands off the mother of his children. That must really be tearing apart his marriage and his life.
Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Frames Campaign As Vote on Economy, Bush’
Yes, a boring headline. But if you want to get past last night’s hype, a very solid story co-authored by veteran sober reporter Jerry Seib (whose embryonic journalism work I used to grade when I was a grad assistant for the late, great John Bremner at the University of Kansas). Seib’s lede graf:
Then two strong grafs smoothly quoting Obama, followed by this, which I’ll quote at length because, although it’s not particularly new, it cuts through the hype, as I noted, and sums up things — unlike Nagourney’s lame piece mentioned above — in vivid black and white:
Yet at best, Sen. Obama is only marginally ahead of Republican standard-bearer Sen. John McCain in national polls. To change that on Election Day in just over two months, he has to win over more working-class white voters and turn out all those young voters who say they are for him. In the eyes of many in his party, he also must shed some of the cool facade that makes some voters see him as aloof. And he must zero in on the key handful of normally Republican red states he can turn Democratic blue. The campaign is heading straight from the convention to a tour of battleground states, starting Friday with Pennsylvania.
One of his biggest challenges is to make mainstream voters comfortable with the idea of him as president despite his unconventional personal story — son of a white mother and black father from Africa, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia — and his modest level of experience in Washington. Far from shying away from his unusual biography, Sen. Obama, in his remarks, brandished it as a sign that he has an unusual appreciation for the promise of America.
I’ve not been a big fan of Seib’s column-writing in recent years, but as a news reporter, he’s excellent. You get an A from me, Jerry, but more importantly, even the tough Bremner would have also given you high marks.
On the other hand, Bremner would pick up the phone and scold me. That’s what he used to do, and I miss it.
Clifford J. Levy produces an interesting angle of the Caucasoid freakoid mess, but it’s crippled by a ponderous lede:
What’s worse is that this stiffly written piece doesn’t even name the “candidate” — as if we didn’t know — until the fifth graf:
Loosen up, Cliff. But good job of getting Putin’s middle initial in the story.