The Press Focused Too Much on Obama's Bio Back in 2008, Not Too Little

Besides, what really needs looking at now is his record as president -- not his youth.

barrack Obama full.jpg
Reuters

Over at Slate's excellent Weigel blog, eponymous author David Weigel, a booster of Delaware whose status as a natural-born American I can't personally verify, offers the beginning of an answer to those who contend that President Obama's past was insufficiently vetted during Election 2008. "The 'Obama wasn't vetted' outrage doesn't have any quantitative, factual proof," the onetime USA Today editorial page assistant writes. "If you're angry that Obama won in 2008, it sure feels like the media went too easy on him. It sure feels like the press was so interested in the story of the First Black President that it ignored stories that reflected poorly on him. Feeling isn't proving."

The former roommate of The Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez is quite right.

But I'd go a step farther.

It isn't just that the New York Times published "a 2,593 word Jodi Kantor story (with additional reporting from Kenya!) about Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his relationship to Barack Obama," or that its story, "Pragmatic Politics, Forged on the South Side," included this passage:

Mr. Obama also fit in at Hyde Park's fringes, among university faculty members like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, unrepentant members of the radical Weather Underground that bombed the United States Capitol and the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mr. Obama was introduced to the couple in 1995 at a meet-and-greet they held for him at their home, aides said.

Now, along with Mr. Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Ayers has become a prime exhibit in the effort by Mr. Obama's presidential rivals to highlight what could be politically radioactive associations. In 2001, Mr. Ayers said he did not regret the Weatherman bombings.

The fact is that American voters circa 2008 were presented with more biographical stories about the early years of Barack Obama, including the politics of his Kenyan father, the time he spent as a child in Indonesia, the relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko that was the subject of another 2007 New York Times story, and the youthful drug use that has been mentioned in multiple Times stories over the years, than it has about anyone it has ever elected to the presidency. The press obsessed over his biography, right down to re-reporting his autobiography.

Most of the details were legitimate subjects of journalistic inquiry. But looking back, the vast majority were as irrelevant to figuring out what Obama would do if elected as the various biographical details I've included in this piece are to assessing the work of Weigel, who attended high school in England and moved to Chicago in 2000, the same city where Barack Obama met the people who remain in his inner-circle of friends, according to The Washington Post circa 2008.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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