Politics & Policy

Media Claims that Obama Faced Same Scrutiny as Carson Don’t Stand Up

Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright

Dr. Ben Carson, we’re told, has been inducted into the “big leagues” of presidential front-runners, where the press is equally assiduous in vetting each candidate. Politico parsed Carson’s imprecise public and written statements about receiving a full scholarship to West Point (actually his ROTC supervisors said they could get him an appointment to the school). The article’s new headline no longer hits Carson with a charge of admitting to a fabrication, and it bears an editor’s note sort of apologizing for its initially imprecise reporting.

This week’s media investigations into Carson also covered his views on Egyptian pyramids and whether he attempted to stab someone in his childhood — the accusation being that he did not, as he claims, try to stab someone, not that he did try to stab someone. Writing for the Washington Post, Janell Ross concludes that Carson’s campaign perpetuates the stabbing story in order to appeal to white voters by reaffirming their conception of black America. Never mind that his mother confirmed the stabbing incident in 1997.

NBC’s Meet the Press team, however, assures us that this level of scrutiny is normal: “If you can’t deal with media scrutiny as a candidate, you won’t be able to handle it as president.” They write:

We found a combined 165 New York Times and Washington Post articles that were all (or partially) about Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright between the time Obama first launched his presidential bid (Feb. 2007) and his 2008 victory (Nov. 2008). During that same time period, we found an additional 41 New York Times and Washington Post pieces on Obama and Bill Ayers.

Except the number of articles containing those key words matters much less than the narrative the Times and the Post cumulatively created in their coverage of those relationships.

#share#The substantial body of the Times articles on Obama and Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Weather Underground, the Communist revolutionary group that bombed public buildings, avoided suggesting that their relationship raised any questions of importance for Obama’s candidacy. The angle of many news articles on the subject was simply to report Republican attacks over their association. The Times covered John McCain ads slamming Obama on Ayers, emphasized that the two weren’t close and that their relationship had been exaggerated, blogged about reasons to defend Bill Ayers, reported the Obama campaign’s own defense and Obama’s denouncement of the attacks as “out of touch,” and turned Fox News coverage of Obama’s ties into a story.

#related#The first article in which the Post mentions Obama’s relationship to Ayers is headlined “‘Soft’ Press Sharpens Its Focus on Obama” — i.e., the story isn’t actually the story but how the story is being covered — and it notes that news of their connection “involves recycled reporting that didn’t get much traction the first time around.” A month later, the Post informed us of Ayers that the “Former ’60s Radical Is Now Considered Mainstream in Chicago.” In the piece, Peter Slevin writes, “Nearly 30 years after surrendering to police, Ayers and Dohrn, both in their 60s, are tenured university professors whose work on school reform and juvenile justice have won them bipartisan respect.” Implication: The past is past.

The Post’s coverage took the same tone in reporting on Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright. Peter Slevin also wrote what seemed to be the most straight-shooting piece the paper ran on Wright during Obama’s campaign. The piece leads with the news that Wright “is no longer affiliated with Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential race” and fills the rest of the story with Obama’s quotes denouncing Wright’s controversial statements.

While acknowledging the need for Obama to clear the air about Wright in a speech to be delivered that day, a Post editorial  laments, “We long for a return to a vigorous debate about kitchen-table issues facing the nation.”

Let’s apply this sentiment to Ben Carson and see what happens.

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