What the Obamaphile Press Omitted From Its Endorsements

The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Jonathan Chait treat some of the most important issues in America as if they don't matter at all. 

al-awlaki kid full.png
This is Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, one of the American citizens the Obama Administration killed in a secret, extrajudicial drone strike. He was 16 when he died.

Eight years ago, as George W. Bush sought reelection, his flaws were evident to much of America, but movement-conservative publications wouldn't confront them until years later as his second term came to an end. Some conservative journalists were blind to his shortcomings. Others thought it best to look past his failures until he was safely returned to power, lest Senator John Kerry be elected. I've spoken to numerous Tea Partiers who swear that they weren't attuned to many of the objectionable things happening in Washington, D.C., until the end of Bush's tenure, when conservative information elites finally began to speak frankly to the rank and file.

President Obama's most prominent journalistic supporters are behaving that way today. They refuse to offer an unabridged account of the last four years. What they leave out it telling. It is fine that they favor reelecting Obama, but only by omitting so much can they do so "enthusiastically." And like National Review circa 2004, we'll one day look back on today's endorsements from publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times, and writers like Jonathan Chait, and conclude that their silence on certain important subjects ill-served the country.  

Let us take them in turn.

The New Yorker's endorsement of Barack Obama suggests that it's a constant struggle to see not only what's in front of one's nose, but also what's been published in the pages of one's magazine. President Obama "has renewed the honor of the office he holds," the editors assert, adding that he possesses "a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity." They go on to posit that "a two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life," for Obama's America "progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality," even as it "represents the future that this country deserves."

Extravagant praise, is it not?

The editorial is the latest example of journalists who cannot help but be familiar with Obama's most serious failings almost totally neglecting to mention or assimilate them when retelling the story of his first term. The New Yorker has dedicated tens of thousands of words to Obama's broken promises, executive-power excesses, and transgressions against civil liberties. Those powerful, vital stories survive in the magazine's archive. How do they inform the 3,700-word editorial? "Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters," it states. "Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones."

That's it. A single parenthetical! And a clause noting that some people "question" the morality of drones. Is the morality of a tactic that has killed hundreds of innocents insufficiently consequential for the editors to bother judging it themselves? What of the blowback that's been warned against in their pages? Were they unpersuaded by their own coverage? There isn't anything wrong with The New Yorker endorsing Obama, or warning its readers away from Romney. To do so in this abridged fashion is an affront to New Yorker writers who have shown through painstaking work that these issues matter -- that they demand far more than a passing acknowledgement that there is controversy!

This article on whistleblowers matters. So does this item on state secrets, this item titled "Kill or Capture," this item on Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and this item on Libya and the War Powers Resolution. What makes all these stories important enough to cover, often in great detail, always with significant concern, but renders them totally unworthy of mention at report card time?

Presidential behavior is shaped by what they're graded on.     

Alas, the New York Times endorsement is even worse. The newspaper has produced more than its share of pieces detailing the excesses of the Obama Administration, especially its secret kill list and the practice of presuming that any dead male of military age it kills is a "militant."

But its editorial, "Barack Obama for Reelection," lacks even a parenthetical about the aforementioned issues. The editors do note that Obama "has not been as aggressive as we would have liked in addressing the housing crisis." What does it say that the newspaper's editorial board finds that alleged shortcoming more worthy of mention than spying on millions of innocents without warrants, protecting Bush-era torturers from prosecution, and signing indefinite detention into law? "We have criticized individual policy choices that Mr. Obama has made over the last four years, and have been impatient with his unwillingness to throw himself into the political fight," the editors write, declining to mention which policy choices. And that that's the totality of the newspaper's criticism! 

This isn't just indefensible -- it's hypocritical. Here's what the Times wrote in its 2008 Obama endorsement:

Under Mr. Bush ... the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the justice system and the separation of powers have come under relentless attack. Mr. Bush chose to exploit the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the moment in which he looked like the president of a unified nation, to try to place himself above the law. Mr. Bush has arrogated the power to imprison men without charges and browbeat Congress into granting an unfettered authority to spy on Americans. He has created untold numbers of "black" programs, including secret prisons and outsourced torture. The president has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of secret orders. We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated.

It is perfectly consistent to write that paragraph and to judge that Obama is preferable to Romney. What grates is the act of disappearing these issues now that it's a Democrat violating basic rights, so much so that the editorial concludes, "we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term." It seems the Times can only muster moral outrage at election time for Republicans.

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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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