As others have noted, today’s New York Times carries a story on the relationship between Barack Obama and unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist, Bill Ayers. The piece serves as a platform for the Obama campaign and Obama’s friends and allies. Obama’s spokesman and supporters’ names are named and their versions of events are presented in detail, with quotes. Yet the article makes no serious attempt to present the views of Obama critics who have worked to uncover the true nature of the relationship. That makes this piece irresponsible journalism, and an obvious effort by the former paper of record to protect Obama from the coming McCain onslaught.
The title of the article when it first appeared on the web last night was, “Obama Had Met Ayers, but the Two Are Not Close.” That was quickly changed to, “Obama and the ‘60′s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths.” Perhaps the first headline made the paper’s agenda a bit too obvious. Even so, the new title simply parrots the line of Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt that the two first met through an early “education project” and since have simply “encountered each other occasionally in public life or in the neighborhood.” Or, as New York Times reporter Scott Shane puts it at the head of his article, since an initial lunchtime meeting in 1995, “their paths have crossed sporadically…at a coffee Mr. Ayers hosted for Mr. Obama’s first run for office, on the schools project (i.e. the Chicago Annenberg Challenge) and a charitable board, and in casual encounters as Hyde Park neighbors.”
There is nothing “sporadic” about Barack Obama delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of many years to fund Bill Ayers’ radical education projects, not to mention many millions more to benefit Ayers’ radical education allies. We are talking about a substantial and lengthy working relationship here, one that does not depend on the quality of personal friendship or number of hours spent in the same room together (although the article greatly underestimates that as well).
Shane’s article buys the spin on Ayers’ supposed rehabilitation offered by the Obama campaign and Ayers’ supporters in Chicago. In this view, whatever Ayers did in the 1960′s has somehow been redeemed by Ayers’ later turn to education work. As the Times quotes Mayor Daley saying, “People make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life.” The trouble with this is that Ayers doesn’t view his terrorism as a mistake. How can he be forgiven when he’s not repentant? Nor does Ayers see his education work as a repudiation of his early radicalism. On the contrary, Ayers sees his education work as carrying on his radicalism in a new guise. The point of Ayers’ education theory is that the United States is a fundamentally racist and oppressive nation. Students, Ayers believes, ought to be encouraged to resist this oppression. Obama was funding Ayers’ “small schools” project, built around this philosophy. Ayers’ radicalism isn’t something in the past. It’s something to which Obama gave moral and financial support as an adult. So when Shane says that Obama has never expressed sympathy for Ayers’ radicalism, he’s flat wrong. Obama’s funded it.
Obama was perfectly aware of Ayers’ radical views, since he read and publically endorsed, without qualification, Ayers’ book on juvenile crime. That book is quite radical, expressing doubts about whether we ought to have a prison system at all, comparing America to South Africa’s apartheid system, and contemptuously dismissing the idea of the United States as a kind or just country. Shane mentions the book endorsement, yet says nothing about the book’s actual content. Nor does Shane mention the panel about Ayers’ book, on which Obama spoke as part of a joint Ayers-Obama effort to sink the 1998 Illinois juvenile crime bill. Again, we have unmistakable evidence of a substantial political working relationship. (I’ve described it in detail here in “Barack Obama’s Lost Years.”
The Times article purports to resolve the matter of Ayers’ possible involvement in Obama’s choice to head the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, yet in no way does so. Clearly, the article sides with those who claim that Ayers was not involved. Yet the piece has no credibility because it simply refuses to present the arguments of those who say that Ayers almost surely had a significant role in Obama’s final choice.
Steve Diamond has made a powerful case that, whoever first suggested Obama’s name, Ayers must surely have had a major role in his final selection. Diamond has now revealed that the Times consulted him extensively for this article and has seen his important documentary evidence. Yet we get no inkling in the piece of Diamond’s key points, or the documents that back it up. (I’ve made a similar argument myself, based largely on my viewing of many of the same documents presented by Diamond.) How can an article that gives only one side of the story be fair? Instead of offering both sides of the argument and letting readers decide, the Times simply spoon-feeds its readers the Obama camp line.
The Times also ignores the fact that I’ve published a detailed statement from the Obama camp on the relationship between Ayers and Obama at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. (See “Obama’s Challenge.”) Maybe that’s because attention to that statement would force them to acknowledge and report on my detailed reply.
Shane’s story also omits any mention of the fact that access to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge records was blocked. What’s more, thanks to a University of Chicago law student’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we now know that access to the documents was blocked by an old Obama associate, Ken Rolling, on the day I first tried to see them. And as a result of my own FOIA, we also have evidence that Rolling may have been less than fully forthcoming on the question of Ayers’ possible role in elevating Obama to board chair at Anneberg. In fact, Rolling seems to have been withholding information from a New York Times reporter. I’ve made this material public in a piece called, “Founding Brothers.” How could a responsible article on the topic of Obama, Ayers, and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge ignore the story of the blocked library access and the results of the two FOIA requests? How could a responsible paper fail to aggressively follow up on the questions raised by those requests, and by the documents and analysis presented by Steve Diamond?
Most remarkably of all, Shane seems to paper over the results of his own questioning. On the one hand, toward the end of the piece we read: “Since 2002, there is little public evidence of their relationship.” And it’s no wonder, says Shane, since Ayers was caught expressing no regret for his own past terrorism in an article published on September 11, 2001. Yet earlier in Shane’s article we learn that, according to Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt, Obama and Ayers “have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Mr. Obama began serving in the United States Senate in January 2005.” Very interesting. Obama’s own spokesman has just left open the possibility that there has indeed been phone and e-mail contact between the two men between 2002 and 2004, well after Ayers’ infamous conduct on 9/11. Yet instead of pursuing this opening, Shane ignores the findings of his own investigation and covers for Obama.
The New York Times in the tank for Obama? You bet. And sinking deeper every day.