Investigation or inoculation? John McCain has said he'll be taking a tougher line against Barack Obama and his associates, and reporter Scott Shane's front-page piece in Saturday's New York Times on the "sporadic" ties between Obama and William Ayers, a founder of the 1960s domestic terrorist group Weather Underground, serves as a 2,100-word inoculation, a long investigative piece that does little in the way of actual investigating, providing the appearance of due diligence while exonerating Obama. The two men knew each other years in Chicago politics, most notably when Obama served as chief executive of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school project co-founded by Ayers, while Ayers served on the board. Ayers and his wife, fellow Weather Underground member Bernardine Dohrn, hosted a gathering for their Hyde Park neighbor Barack Obama. It was Obama's "coming-out" party for politics. Ayers has never repented from his domestic terrorism, which included a bomb attack on the Pentagon (a Weather Underground member planted a bomb in a Pentagon restroom). In a Times profile that coincidentally appeared the morning of September 11, 2001, Ayers said, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." In his memoir, "Fugitive Days," he wrote: ''Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon." On Saturday, the Times attempted to disarm this potentially harmful connection under the guise of investigating it in Shane's off-lead story, "Obama and '60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths." Shane appeared more interested in downplaying the "sporadic" relationship between Obama and Ayers (just read the headline, which made the relationship seem random) than actually digging into it for details. (The initial online headline was even more bluntly pro-Obama: "Obama Had Met Ayers, but the Two Are Not Close.") Here's an excerpt:
At a tumultuous meeting of anti-Vietnam War militants at the Chicago Coliseum in 1969, Bill Ayers helped found the radical Weathermen, launching a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and United States Capitol.
Twenty-six years later, at a lunchtime meeting about school reform in a Chicago skyscraper, Barack Obama met Mr. Ayers, by then an education professor. Their paths have crossed sporadically since then, at a coffee Mr. Ayers hosted for Mr. Obama's first run for office, on the schools project and a charitable board, and in casual encounters as Hyde Park neighbors.
Their relationship has become a touchstone for opponents of Mr. Obama, the Democratic senator, in his bid for the presidency. Video clips on YouTube, including a new advertisement that was broadcast on Friday, juxtapose Mr. Obama's face with the young Mr. Ayers or grainy shots of the bombings.
In a televised interview last spring, Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican rival, asked, "How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?"
More recently, conservative critics who accuse Mr. Obama of a stealth radical agenda have asserted that he has misleadingly minimized his relationship with Mr. Ayers, whom the candidate has dismissed as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood" and "somebody who worked on education issues in Chicago that I know."
A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8."
Someone should tell Chicago Mayor Richard Daley that the "two men do not appear to have been close." Daley attempted to dismiss the link between Obama and Ayers but instead strengthened it by saying: "They're friends. So what?" Reaction from the right-leaning blogosphere has been piercing; "whitewash" is a popular word. Color blogger Tom Maguire, for one, very unimpressed. He summarized things neatly, saying Shane
...presents an elegant apologia for Obama's mysterious relationship with unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. Mr. Shane presents the bare bones of many of the allegations made by critics, thereby allowing the Times to defend this piece as fair and two-sided. However, little or no evidence is presented to support the allegations while the Obama denials and current explanations are presented uncritically. The net effect will probably be to convince many people that the Times pushed hard but simply could not find a story here.
Stanley Kurtz at National Review Online, who has pushed harder than anyone for the full facts about the Obama-Ayers connection (with resistance from the Chicago political machine and the Obama camp, and indifference on the part of the mainstream media), called Shane's story a "whitewash" and added:
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.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air looked at the facts and wondered how Shane could really call the Obama-Ayers relationship "sporadic":
How can Scott Shane write with a straight face that "[t]heir paths have crossed sporadically since then"? Obama worked as CEO of the project that Ayers helped found, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, for several years. Ayers served on the board at the same time. In an overlapping period, both men served for a few years on the Woods Fund, which notably granted $75,000 to Yasser Arafat's associate, Rashid Khalidi, during that time.
Their paths didn't cross "sporadically." They worked on two projects together, political projects, for almost a decade in Chicago. That's hardly "sporadic"; that's a well-established working relationship, and certainly much more substantial than Obama's description of Ayers as just another familiar face in the neighborhood.
This isn't the first time the Times has downplayed the Obama-Ayers connection. In August, reporter Jim Rutenberg penned three stories attacking an anti-Obama ad from an independent group that questioned the relationship between Obama and Ayers. And fellow NewsBuster Lee Boggs raised some other questions the Times failed to dig into.