Accuracy in Media

It looks like Obama fever is starting to infect conservatives. The April 9, 2007 issue of Time magazine features an article by William Kristol, a conservative Republican, comparing Senator Barack Obama to Democratic Party icon Bobby Kennedy.

Entitled “In 2008 It’s Ronald Reagan vs. Bobby Kennedy,” Kristol says that “Finishing Bobby’s work is the most gripping and compelling task for today’s Democratic Party,” and he suggests that Obama is the one to do it.

Kristol writes that if Obama can defeat Hillary Clinton for the nomination, “It would be the victory Bobby Kennedy was denied by an assassin’s bullet. Obama is, like Kennedy, a charismatic freshman Senator, running before his time but?supporters think?uniquely suited to the time.” Kristol goes on to say, “Obama follows Kennedy in being a bold liberal and a skeptic of simple ideological stances, a gifted politician and an antipolitician, a man familiar with the halls of power yet a charismatic critic of them.”

What Kristol neglects to emphasize is that RFK was more than a freshman Senator from New York when he ran for President. Kennedy was also the former Attorney General who helped take down members of the mafia, fought to end racial segregation in southern universities, and helped advise his brother, who was President, on the most important foreign and domestic issues of his time. Obama’s familiarity “with the halls of power” is limited to three years as the junior Senator from Illinois and some time in the Illinois State House.

Washington Post columnist writer Richard Cohen, a liberal, takes it one step further, comparing Obama to JFK. In a March 27, 2007 column, Cohen writes, “JFK, of course, is the politician to whom Obama is most often compared?the wit, the physical grace, the eloquence, the youth.” Cohen even writes that Obama’s autobiography is an “astounding display of a supple, first-class mind?not merely a bright fellow, but an insightful one, and the single best piece of writing by a politician since John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.”

However, at least Cohen is willing to admit that unlike Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Obama’s Dreams From My Father reads more like fiction than a true autobiography. According to Cohen, Obama “recounts a watershed moment?a ‘revelation,’ a ‘violent’ awakening, an incident that ‘permanently altered’ his ‘vision.'” It seems that twice in Obama’s autobiography he recounts “how as a 9-year-old he went to the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia?and came across a Life magazine article about a black man who had tried to whiten his skin.”

According to Cohen, Obama writes, “I felt my face and neck get hot. My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page.” Cohen says that “the child had, for the first time, confronted racism and its hideous consequences.”

In reality, Obama had not confronted anything, but was merely reading a story about someone else’s experiences. What’s worse is that Obama’s account seems to have been made up. Cohen acknowledges, “there is no such issue of Life magazine. So says the Chicago Tribune, which has gone through the Obama memoir with commendable thoroughness.” In fact, according to Cohen, the Chicago Tribune conducted more than 40 interviews with former classmates, teachers, friends, and neighbors’ from Obama’s youth “and found both trivial and substantial differences between the stories Obama tells and those recalled by others.”

Raising even more doubts, Cohen reports: “When the Tribune told Obama that Life magazine historians could find no such story, Obama suggested it might have been Ebony?’or it might have been?who knows what it was?’ (The Tribune says Ebony archivists also could not come up with such an article).”

Defending this story-telling, Cohen says that Obama “may be manipulating the facts in order to wrap raw ambition in the gauze of a larger cause.” This is media doublespeak; lies become “manipulating the facts” for “a larger cause.”

But for all the accolades and excuses Cohen rewards the freshman Senator from Illinois, Cohen believes there is a better comparison between Obama and a political figure of the past. However, for Republicans, Cohen’s Obama comparison might just make their jaws drop down to the floor. Cohen makes a comparison between Obama and Reagan, saying, “The politician who really understood that life should unwind like a movie?the arc, the reveal, the back story, etc.?was Ronald Reagan. He always starred in his own movie and so, it seems, does Obama.”

Looking at the Kristol and Cohen pieces, one can only conclude that Obama is the one candidate that represents the media’s hopes and ideals for the future, and that his ability to manipulate or make up facts is a positive characteristic in this regard.

One might dismiss this as typical superficial journalism were it not for the fact that, in the case of Obama, what is known about him raises some serious questions about his fitness for high office. These questions deserve to be investigated?not glossed over?by our major media. Kristol and Cohen, from different sides of the political spectrum, both blew it.

Obama is being portrayed by the media as someone with the potential not only to save the Democratic Party but the nation. We are still left with many questions about who Obama is, and where he came from, and these questions need to be thoroughly researched and reported.

It’s especially troubling to see a normally astute political observer like Kristol buy into the hype. Now with a national audience as a columnist for Time magazine, he can and should do better than this.




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