The LA Times has mounted a spirited defense against the ever increasing volume of reader complaints the Times is getting about its loving coverage of Obama, especially when contrasted with the fact that its McCain coverage is minimal and fairly hostile. Here’s the key part of its defense:
[I]t’s the string of Page 1 stories and photos that has brought the most recent protests: On Sunday, July 20, the Campaign ’08 banner was over a story about the Iraqi prime minister’s endorsement of Obama’s plan for withdrawing U.S. troops; on Monday the article was about the political furor triggered by that withdrawal plan. On Tuesday the front-page story was “Obama’s views resonate in Iraq.” (That was the headline in print; headlines on the online versions are often different.) Each story included an above-the-fold photograph. There were front-page stories, too, last week, on July 15 (“Obama re-admonishes blacks“), 16 (“Obama stands by his plan to end war“), and 17 (a profile of Obama and his father headlined “So alike and yet so different”).
The news itself dictates the amount of coverage, editors point out. Times reporters are on the trail with both McCain and Obama. In recent days, coverage of McCain has included two front-page pieces (“Housing crisis is a test for McCain” on July 19 and “McCain takes a risk on Social Security,” July 14), several brief stories as well as two longer ones inside the main section (“McCain wins some respect,” about his address before the NAACP convention, Page A14 on July 17; “McCain’s turn before La Raza in San Diego,” Page A11, July 15).
Aaron Zitner, who edits campaign coverage from The Times’ Washington bureau, summarizes the events that made for more news about Obama’s overseas trip: “First,” Zitner wrote in an e-mail, “the Iraqi government decided to announce during Obama’s trip that it agreed, more or less, with his timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals. This was significant news, because it suggested that the Iraqi government is not on the same page with President Bush on this important issue — and the Bush administration is actively negotiating with the Iraqis just now over the role of U.S. forces there.
“Second, the Iraqi government turned Obama’s trip into a three-day news event. The Iraqis said that they agreed with Obama’s timeline for troop withdrawals, then the next day suggested that they disagreed with him, and then seemed to agree with him again on the third day. This kept Obama’s visit in the news.
“Finally, Obama’s reception in the Mideast was significant. At home, his opponents are trying to portray him as naive on foreign policy, particularly in his proposals to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and to sit down at the table with Iran. The fact that Iraqi leaders agreed with him on the first point, and that Israeli leaders accepted his views on Iran, made for substantive news stories.”
Earlier in the month, readers who protested the story of McCain’s first marriage received a note from National Editor Scott Kraft: “The piece on John McCain’s first marriage was one of a number of stories we have done — and will continue to do — on the two candidates for president. In those pieces, we are looking at every aspect of the candidates’ lives. We are looking at what they said about their past and what others say about their past.
“This was a story that looked at that period in McCain’s life when his marriage broke up, he met his current wife and when his personal relationship soured with the Reagans, among others. We also looked at the discrepancy between what the candidate said in his autobiography and what he said in court documents that he signed. I think voters themselves can determine whether such discrepancies are relevant or irrelevant. But they can’t make those decisions without all the facts. McCain and Obama have put themselves up for the highest elected office in the land. We think their background is not only fair game — it’s something every thinking voter would want to know more about.”
A few comments about the above defense — and I’ll note right up front that, while I’ve generally followed the media coverage of the two candidates, I haven’t been tracking the LA Times at all. Nevertheless, its pretty clear from the defense itself that the Times‘ coverage is completely consistent with that coming from the rest of the American media.
What immediately leaps out of the above series of excuses is the nature of the stories about the two candidate: The personal story about Obama is about his yearning for his father; the personal story about McCain is about how he screwed his first wife. The McCain headlines are consistent with that theme. Without reading the articles themselves, the headlines tell a story of McCain’s trial’s and tribulations — the risks he’s running and the head-barely-above-water status of his campaign. On their face, an objective observer can see that they’re less than adulatory.
The Obama headlines strike a very different tone. (Again, I’m just riffing off the defense, and am reading their underlines, not their underlying stories.) These headlines are about leadership. They hit upon Obama’s firm stance on the war (no indication in the headline that his position was wrong and his defense is now duplicitous), about his leadership in the black community, and about the way Iraqis love his viewpoint.
It’s this last that’s especially interesting. As you notice, the Times goes on and on in defense of its coverage by pointing out what a great reception Obama’s gotten in Iraq and how his brilliance is proven by the fact that Maliki currently concurs with Obama’s position du jour.
The problem with this excuse for prObama coverage is that we’ve got nothing against which to compare it. Unlike Obama, who has reached all his pre-July 20 positions regarding Iraq in a perfect vacuum of factual ignorance, John McCain has made repeated trips to Iraq — and these trips got scant coverage from the MSM, including the Times.
At the time McCain went to Iraq, he advocated the Surge — as did high and low level Iraqis, who desperately needed America there to restore order and prevent a blood bath. Indeed, let me give McCain’s own version of his principled stand, taken from his speech today in Denver:
We both knew the politically safe choice was to support some form of retreat. All the polls said the “surge” was unpopular. Many pundits, experts and policymakers opposed it and advocated withdrawing our troops and accepting the consequences. I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops — which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. Many observers said my position would end my hopes of becoming president. I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war. My choice was not smart politics. It didn’t test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls. It also didn’t matter. The country I love had one final chance to succeed in Iraq. The new strategy was it. So I supported it. Today, the effects of the new strategy are obvious. The surge has succeeded, and we are, at long last, finally winning this war.
That is historically accurate. And here’s McCain’s equally accurate summation of Obama’s Iraq position:
Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn’t just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.
In other words, what the LA Times doesn’t acknowledge as it tries to explain why Obama gets all the Iraq love this July is that the only reason the ObaMessiah can look good right now is because John McCain was right over and over again, not in July 2008, but in 2003 and 2004 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007. It was McCain’s drive and vision that helped create the scenario that now enables Obama to feel the media’s unending love.
So, while it’s news today that Obama is well-received, the Times must be faulted — vigorously and loudly — for missing all of yesterday’s news about McCain’s fact-finding, vision, and principled stand. Even more importantly, the media must be faulted for ignoring the fact that, while the Iraqi leadership might, for pragmatic reasons agree with Obama today, the history it shoved to the back and bottom of its papers shows that for years, not just for a week or two, the Iraqi people were in complete accord with McCain’s defense of their lives and safety.
Iraq aside, there’s also no excuse for the press’s gaga response to Obama’s European junket — and, significantly, the LA Times doesn’t even try to defend it. Last I saw, Obama was the putative Democratic candidate for an American presidential election. The rock star treatment accorded him in Europe, an agglomeration of states that does not have America’s interests at heart, did not give me any greater sense of his leadership abilities than I had before. And the fact that the media uncritically reported every step and breath he took, without bothering to point out errors or inconsistencies again indicates that the Times‘ editorial team, whatever else you can say about it, is singularly lacking in insight. And when you think about it, that makes this editorial group the perfect match for the approval-craving narcissist in chief of the Democratic party.
UPDATE: Laer has more about the LA Times delicate sensibilities when it comes to determining what’s newsworthy about Democrats.