Politics & Policy

Obamaweek in Review

Reading Newsweek so you don't have to.

Conservatives have long complained about media bias. There’s been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the topic, and not without reason. So many articles (and even books) have been produced on the matter that to add one more to the list seems to be an exercise in post mortem equine sadism.

But what Newsweek has been up to is begging for comment. So far this year, their Obama coverage has been a black hole of jaundiced journalism so dense that few straight truths and impartial observation can escape.

This week’s issue is no different. Newsweek readers should be getting used to it by now, but it’s hard not to curse under your breath when you read a headline as offensively stupid as “Are You Experienced? Why a U.S. senator might not trump a state legislator.” You see, Barack Obama has more experience as a state legislator than any president since Abraham Lincoln, ergo . . . wait, what? Not that being in the state legislature isn’t useful, but it doesn’t exactly speak to all of the areas of expertise needed when you consider the awesome responsibilities of the commander-in-chief. When he wasn’t hashing out a compromise on the water-usage bill for farmers in Effingham, surely Obama paid close attention to all those top-secret national-security briefings they give to the Illinois legislature, right?

Of course, no Newsweek campaign ’08 greatest-hits collection would be complete without “His Jewish Problem: A Myth?” from the June 16 issue. Barack Obama has huddled with a host of campaign advisers widely considered to be borderline anti-Semitic, including some who were in regular contact with Hamas. Obama sat on the board of a charitable foundation that gave money to a Palestinian organization that considers the founding of Israel a “catastrophe”; has had fundraising events in his name hosted by former PLO officials; disapproved of legislation in the Senate classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization even though they arm and fund Hezbollah (before he changed his mind); was endorsed by Hamas; and lost the Jewish vote in the Pennsylvania primary by 24 percent. But Newsweek looked at the issue closely, and determined that these problems are mythical. How, you might ask? Well, they got quotes from two self-professed Obama supporters — entertainment mogul David Geffen and New Jersey congressman Robert Andrews — saying so. Then they let Obama’s campaign accuse the most prominent Jew in Congress of helping spread malicious rumors that Obama is a Muslim without asking him for comment. Classy.

Newsweek has established a clear pattern of using insincere contrarianism in headlines (a.k.a. the Slate disease) to help advance the Obama cause. Take this June 9 article from their website: “Obama’s Official Blog is Boring. McCain’s is Enjoyable. Why That’s Bad News for the GOP.” Of course, should that headline actually confuse you into thinking that Newsweek had some positive things to say about McCain’s campaign blog, they helpfully added a postscript — “UPDATE: Just to clear up some confusion: Obama is light years ahead of McCain on the Internet.” Got it.

Then there’s the magazine’s obsession with painting Obama’s detractors as racist. This was not-so-subtly explored in the magazine’s June 2 cover package, “Obama, Race and Us,” portraying Obama smiling in a halo of light. The final cover was tonally at odds with Evan Thomas’s accompanying piece on race, “A Memo to Senator Obama” — which was far from sunny, trying all too hard to expound upon the gravity of the issue of Race in America. Thomas started the article with the observation that “Race is a difficult subject to talk and write about,” and seemed intent on proving it from that point forward, all the way to the concluding paragraph, in which he observed: “If poor rural whites and African-Americans could sit down together, they would find that they have much in common.” Sit down together? Of course! Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?

Fortunately, Jon Meacham’s editor’s note in the issue went a long way toward putting at ease any qualms a reader might have about excessive focus on Obama’s race:

An important nuance: For those who support either Hillary Clinton or John McCain, the more precise and more useful way to frame the question is not whether America is ready to elect a black man president but rather should the country elect this black man president. This is a significant point, and it is critical that we bear in mind that one can be for McCain [or for Clinton] without being racist.

So you’re not necessarily a racist if you don’t support Obama? How generous! Still, better to make sure you’re not racist. Meacham suggests you take a look at the “Racial Resentment Index” that Newsweek’s crack pollsters have developed to pierce the veil of American bigotry: “People lie to pollsters about race, but usually to appear more accepting, not more resentful.” Rest assured that Newsweek’s new index meets the gold standard for social-scientific inquiry. (Of course, these are the same pollsters, presumably, who recently announced that Obama had a 15-point lead over McCain when not a single other reputable poll had him up by anything more than six.)

But wait, there’s more! If you thought Thomas laid it on thick with the race memo, be sure to read this article from May 19 by Thomas and Richard Wolffe, which proclaims: “He’s taken everything in stride, it seems. How Obama and his team will battle the GOP onslaught.” Thomas and Wolffe’s cool assessment of our intensely partisan landscape contains some real gems:

The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities. . . . It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as “the other” — as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters.

Ah, Republicans scaring voters — so that’s what explains the political history of the last 40 years. And seriously, what kind of world do we live in where a guy can’t socialize and work with an unrepentant domestic terrorist for several years and then go to a church where the pastor is not averse to damning America from the pulpit days after 9/11 without getting accused of hanging around with “America-haters”?

But perhaps the most trenchant observations are reserved for John McCain:

Sen. John McCain himself has explicitly disavowed playing the race card or taking the low road generally. But he may not be able to resist casting doubt on Obama’s patriotism. And the real question is whether he can — or really wants to — rein in the merchants of slime and sellers of hate who populate the Internet and fund the “independent expenditure” groups who exercise their freedom in ways that give a bad name to free speech.

Yes, even though McCain has “explicitly disavowed” taking the low road, Newsweek feels free to suggest that he encourages “merchants of slime and sellers of hate” to operate on his behalf. I take it the “real question” Thomas and Wolffe propose here is multiple choice, and integrity is not among the answers. No wonder the article prompted a 1,300-word letter to the editor in response from the McCain campaign.

Now bear in mind that all this has appeared in Newsweek in the last two months. There are, by my calculation, 19 more issues of Newsweek between now and November 4. If they keep up this pace, the Federal Elections Commission may count the cost of a subscription as an in-kind donation to Obama.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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