Accuracy in Media

Would a President Obama be cool under pressure? Or would he panic under pressure?  Could we count on him to stand up to America’s enemies? 

When it comes to “Obamamania,” the media hysteria surrounding Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, it is still impossible to get the straight scoop about his personal history and habits, including his admitted use of cocaine on one or more occasions. Perhaps we are having trouble getting answers because the media have their own addiction, an addiction to a man they know little about. The media are in love with Obama and his life story, whatever that life story may be. 

We do know that during his formative years in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, he attended a school where he studied the Koran. But this is a mostly forbidden topic for media coverage. Questioning whether a man raised on Islamic teachings has the “right stuff” to be president, while the U.S. engages in a war with Islamic fundamentalists, is somehow taboo or bigoted. The media don’t want to go there, except in a casual manner suggesting there is nothing controversial that deserves our further attention. We are told that, at some point later in his life, he became a Christian. That’s the end of the story, as far as the media are concerned. 

At the same time, we are not given any kind of definitive coverage of his use of cocaine, an issue that might impact how voters think of him. It is, after all, an illegal substance, and its use by Obama does present some very serious and difficult concerns about a candidate-if only the media would ask them.

Rather than go into detail about this, we are treated to stories about whether he or Hillary will get Hollywood’s support, or the support of the black community, as they pursue a presidential run. All of this is a sideshow to the real story. What we need to know about Obama, since he is so new on the political scene, is what kind of person he really is. What kind of mind does he have? Is he clear-headed? 

In an age when terrorists, or nuclear and nuclear-capable states, might be tempted to strike America and kill hundreds of thousands of people, America must have a president with clear judgment. But what does it say about the judgment of a person who has admitted using illegal drugs?  

It has been reported that in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, he admitted using marijuana, cocaine and alcohol, as he was growing up. Obama himself wrote: “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack [heroin] though.” He told The State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield, Illinois, that “I was a confused kid and was making a bunch of negative choices based on stereotypes of what I thought a tough young man should be. Those choices were misguided, a serious mistake. Growing up to be a man involves taking responsibility. By the time I was 20, I was no longer engaged in any of this stuff.” 

We are led to believe that he started down the wrong path but suddenly woke up, realized the error of his ways, and made something out of himself. He strikes many as a real success story. But how often did he use cocaine? How did he get it? Did he become addicted? All of these are questions the media won’t ask. His smoking habit, on the other hand, is big news, having been featured in Newsweek and his 60 Minutes interview.  

An article in the February 26, 2007 issue of Newsweek discusses how Obama has “reached for the occasional cigarette, especially in times of stress.” Chris Carter, who runs QuitNet, the world’s largest quit-smoking program, told the magazine that “a lot of doctors view this [nicotine addiction] as on par with overcoming a heroin addiction.” In fact, according to Newsweek, the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine addiction for a longtime smoker like Obama can cause an individual to become cranky, have trouble sleeping and making decisions, and gaining weight. Newsweek reported that Obama chews Nicotine gum “throughout the day,” which tempers the public signs of withdrawal from the drug, but is a clear indication that he is not over his addiction. 

The matter of breaking the habit is treated by Newsweek as if it were a badge of courage on Obama’s part. Newsweek quotes Obama campaign communications director Robert Gibbs who told the magazine that Obama is “occasionally tempted but he’s on the straight and narrow.” He added, “Most people who are trying to quit are so concerned about failing they don’t want to tell anybody. I think it’s pretty bold of Obama to publicly, intensely try.” 

Quitting smoking is an accomplishment, but just trying to quit means nothing. It certainly doesn’t deserve accolades from the media. As the saying goes, “Quitting is easy; I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

Inflating his nicotine addiction into the equivalent of overcoming tremendous human suffering and adversity, the Newsweek writers ask, “Who says quitters never win?” That assumes he will quit and that it should have any bearing on his fitness to be president.

Making this into a major issue, the online Newsweek article includes photos showing that some of America’s previous Presidents were smokers. Ulysses S. Grant had a 20 cigar-a-day habit which led to his developing throat cancer. Eisenhower kicked a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit before becoming president. 

Obama’s nicotine addiction is a serious threat to his own health but seems minor by comparison to the mental effects of cocaine and their possible impact on how he would conduct public policy. We hope he is able to kick the cigarette habit. But his cocaine use, which may or may not have turned into full-blown addiction, is something else entirely. The 45-year-old presidential candidate says that by the time he was 20, he “no longer engaged in any of that stuff,” but what does this really mean for someone who has a problem with chemical addiction? Did he just stop cold turkey? What does it mean to stop engaging in that stuff?     

There are too many missing pieces to this man’s life. We need to know more-much more. The public has a right to have a clear picture of the man in the middle of the media mania.

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