Ethics & Public Policy Center

Newsweek Gushes

Published in Contentions -- Commentary Magazine Blog on May 12, 2008



Senator McCain's long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine's paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He's not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He's the “alpha male” who “doesn't micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it's still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain's aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama's past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP's allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama's long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it's taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek's cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy's 1968 campaign. It's worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It's fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It's even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it's time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek's effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

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