A lot of people agree that the Washington Post has been a little slow off the mark when it comes to biographical studies of the presidential candidates. But no longer. Today, the paper gets the ball rolling with a piece on…John McCain’s maternal grandfather. The story, “McCain’s Maverick Side: Grandpa Would Be Proud/Mother’s Father Made Fortune on Liquor, Gambling,” includes the section: “While much has been made of McCain’s paternal lineage — the upstanding admirals of the Navy — less appears to be known about Arch Wright, who made a fortune on liquor, gambling and oil in Indian territory before relocating to Los Angeles with a sprawling clan in tow, including McCain’s mother, Roberta Wright McCain.”
On Sunday, the Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, addressed the biography shortage at the paper and asked a top editor about it. “Bill Hamilton, the Post’s assistant managing editor for politics, said, ‘We have every intention of telling the life stories of Obama and McCain, but at a time when readers are most focused on the election…’” Howell wrote. “He said that two fine writers, Michael Leahy on McCain and David Maraniss on Obama, have been assigned to do biographies.”
My memory is that Maraniss produced rather in-the-tank coverage of Bill Clinton for the paper in 1992, only to write a more critical treatment in his book-length biography, First In His Class, that appeared after Clinton was in office. That aside, this McCain’s-grandfather story, by Jonathan Weisman, does not appear to be part of the Post’s biography project. But it does indicate that the Post intends to spend time working on the candidates’ lesser-known grandfathers, which should fill some gaps in our knowledge about Obama, hopefully even before the big biographies are published.