At President Obama’s 100-day press conference on Wednesday night, White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny became a mini-celebrity – or a national laughingstock – for asking President Obama how he was surprised/troubled/enchanted/humbled over the first 100 days. The Times itself seemed embarrassed by the question. The press conference was relegated to page A-19, with the headline "Obama Voices Concern on Pakistan and Defends Interrogation Memo Release." Nine paragraphs in, Zeleny and Helene Cooper acknowledged the "light moments," but don’t acknowledge they were a gift from Zeleny and the Times:
There were a few light moments, particularly when Mr. Obama was asked what has surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled him in the past 100 days. "Wait, let me get this all down," he said, taking out a pen.
Why the passive "mistakes were made" phrasing? Then Zeleny and Cooper provided all the president's answers to the multi-part softball, including: "He called himself enchanted by American servicemen and women, and their sacrifices they make, although he allowed that ‘enchanted’ might not be the exact characterization."
The morning after the media's "enchanted" evening with President Obama's 100-day press conference, Media Research Center Director of Research Rich Noyes appeared on the April 30 "America's Newsroom" to do a post-mortem of the media's fawning over the nation's 44th president. [audio excerpt here]
The segment began with a discussion of New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny's fawning question about what enchanted Obama the most in his first 100 days.:
MEGYN KELLY, Fox News anchor: So, you know, it's prime real estate when you get to ask one of these questions as a reporter at these White House press conferences. He doesn't call on all the reporters. Every question counts, and the White House press corps sort of relies on one another to get to the heart of the matter so that all the most important things are asked. Does this qualify? How enchanted he was in his first 100 days?!
RICH NOYES, Media Research Center: I'm not sure if it really does. You're right. I cannot imagine the press asking George W. Bush what enchanted him the most about his time in the White House. I believe their mantra kept asking him to define all his mistakes and apologize for them, was sort of the routine question they'd bring up to him.
With a liberal Democrat coming to power, the New York Times has evidently gotten over the false fear of "big cuts" in Medicare it displayed when Republicans tried to trim the program back in 1995.
Thursday's lead story by Jeff Zeleny and John Harwood, "Obama Promises Bid To Overhaul Retiree Spending," characterized the president-elect's stated willingness to tackle huge entitlement programs Social Security and Medicare in mostly positive terms. The reporters described Obama's vague proposal as an "overhauling," an "approach to rein in Social Security and Medicare," and an "effort to cut back the rates of growth of the two programs."
President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be "a central part" of his administration's efforts to contain federal spending, signaling for the first time that he would wade into the thorny politics of entitlement programs.
Rounding another turn in the race to November 4, The New York Times's "Election Guide -- Potential Running Mates," compiled by Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny and posted to nytimes.com Monday, handicapped various potential vice presidents for Barack Obama and John McCain.
The Times first counted up twenty-one potential nominees, 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans (Democratic Sen. Jim Webb was removed after he took himself out of consideration).
From the Times, we learned South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham "has occasionally rankled some conservatives by not being conservative enough," that former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge might not help with "McCain's already uneasy relations with conservatives," and that South Dakota Sen. John Thune "has strong credentials with social conservatives." In all, there were seven "conservative" labels applied to either politicians or their supporters.
Tuesday's New York Times report by Jeff Zeleny, "Campaign Flashpoints: Patriotism and Service" covered the back and forth between the McCain and Obama camps over a controversial comment by retired general and Obama adviser Wesley Clark about McCain's lack of qualifications to be president.
In response to a question by Bob Schieffer on the CBS Sunday talk show "Face the Nation," Clark said of John McCain, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."
But Zeleny also put heavy emphasis on fact-checking what he considers unfair attacks on Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama arrived here in Independence, the home of President Harry S. Truman, to open a weeklong patriotism tour. He sought to explain and defend his American ideals to ward off skepticism and silence persistent rumors about his loyalties to the nation.
Like rock journalists following Bono, the Times reporters seem utterly fascinated by the minutia of Obama's day, while taking a few potshots at a Bush administration it's already condemned as doomed to perdition in the history books.
Like most presidential candidates, Mr. Obama is developing his executive skills on the fly, and under intense scrutiny. The evolution of his style in recent months suggests he is still finding the right formula as he confronts a challenge that he has not faced in his career: managing a large organization.
The skill will become more important should he win the presidency, and his style is getting added attention as the country absorbs the lessons of President Bush's tenure in the Oval Office. Mr. Bush's critics, including former aides, have portrayed him as too cloistered, too dependent on a small coterie of trusted aides, unable to distinguish between loyalty and competence, and insufficiently willing to adjust course in the face of events that do not unfold the way he expects.
Barack Obama’s press contingent has shrunk now that the primary campaign is over, but will we learn of everything he’s saying on the stump? On Monday in Flint, Michigan, Obama repeatedly declared that we’re funding terrorists when we buy foreign oil. In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Obama’s Flint speech drew one sentence at the very end of a story on page A-7. Doesn’t this passage stand out? (Courtesy of reporter Lynn Sweet's blog):
Oil money pays for the bombs going off from Baghdad to Beirut, and the bombast of dictators from Caracas to Tehran. Our nation will not be secure unless we take that leverage away, and our planet will not be safe unless we move decisively toward a clean energy future.
This is an odd passage for several reasons. First and foremost, far from taking "leverage" away from dictators in Caracas and Tehran, candidate Obama has explicitly promised to meet them without any troublesome diplomatic preconditions.
Second, Obama’s declaration that our oil purchases buy bombs on the Arab street doesn’t specify whether he means Iran, Saudi Arabia, or somehow al-Qaeda.
Sen. Barack Obama is now the Democratic presidential nominee, to the approval of no doubt much of the New York Times' news team, which has lifted the Illinois senator throughout the campaign, and nudging Sen. Hillary Clinton towards stage right, even as she continued to win primaries.
Times Watch's rough count of Times news stories since Thanksgiving 2007 shows a nearly 3-1 ratio of positive-to-negative stories for Obama, compared to a 2-3 positive-to-negative ratio for Clinton.
Two campaign stories faced down each other from opposite pages in today's New York Times, one devoted to Obama, the other to Hillary, as they trolled for votes before today's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana. To those tracking the Times closely, it's no surprise who came out with the more sympathetic profile: Obama.
Mr. Obama's struggle to capture working-class votes also raises some unanswered questions, not least the role played by racial perceptions. Many millions of whites have voted for Mr. Obama over the course of the primaries, but his percentage of that vote has dropped noticeably in recent contests.
Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech Tuesday was a transparent attempt to quell the controversy over his ties to fiery anti-American minister Jeremiah Wright. But the New York Times, along with the rest of the media, portrayed the speech just the way the Obama camp would have wanted -- as a transcendent address on race in America, past, present and future, with Obama's long connection to Wright a secondary matter.
It was an extraordinary moment -- the first black candidate with a good chance at becoming a presidential nominee, in a country in which racial distrust runs deep and often unspoken, embarking at a critical juncture in his campaign upon what may be the most significant public discussion of race in decades.
The presidential field has winnowed down further, with Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani announcing their withdrawal from the presidential race on the same day. But while the left-wing Democrat was serenaded as a trailblazer, the moderate Republican was mocked for "living an illusion."
While few were surprised by Giuliani's announcement (and subsequent endorsement of fellow moderate John McCain) after his distant third-place finish in Florida, Edwards' decision must have shocked at least one person -- New York Times reporter Julie Bosman, who must be feeling snake-bit after her Tuesday story portraying Edwards as the Energizer Bunny, motoring on and becoming a possible kingmaker at the Democratic convention.