What You Are, Picks Its Way

What a lovely day!: Obama loses the Pennsylvania primary by double digits and the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful Dorothy Rabinowitz does a job on Obama’s media toadies.

An excerpt:

…[ABC News] Moderators Charles Gibson’s and George Stephanopoulos’s offense was to ask questions Mr. Obama didn’t want to address. Worse, they’d continued to press them even when the displeased candidate assured them these were old and tired questions.

– “Akin to a federal crime . . . new benchmarks of degradation,” The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg declared, of the debate.

– “Despicable. . . . slanted against Obama,” Washington Post critic Tom Shales charged.

– A “disgusting spectacle,” the New York Times’s David Carr opined.

– The questions had “disgraced democracy itself,” according to columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

The uproar is the latest confirmation of the special place Mr. Obama holds in the hearts of a good part of the media, a status ensured by their shared political sympathies and his star power. That status has in turn given rise to a tendency to provide generous explanations, and put the best possible gloss on missteps and utterances seriously embarrassing to Mr. Obama.

The effort and intensity various CNN panelists, for instance, expended on explaining what Mr. Obama really meant by that awkward San Francisco speech about bitter small towners clinging to their guns and religion – it seems he’d been making an important point if one not evident to anyone listening – exceeded that of the Obama campaign itself.

Still, no effort in helpful explanations was more distinguished than that of David Gergen, senior CNN commentator, who weighed in just after the first explosion of reports on Mr. Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. About this spiritual leader – whose sermons declared the September 11 attacks to be America’s just desserts, who instructed his flock that the United States had set forth on a genocidal program to kill black Americans with the AIDS virus, who held forth as gospel every paranoid fantasy espoused by the lunatic fringe about America’s crimes – Mr. Gergen said, “Actually, Rev. Wright may love this country more than many of us . . . but we’ve fallen short.”

It was an attempt at exculpation, as regards Rev. Wright, that no one has equalled, though many have come close. Not least Mr. Obama, who spends considerable time arguing that the press has focused on a few “snippets” taken from years of sermons.

Mr. Obama’s apparent inability to confront, forthrightly, the pastor’s poisonous pronouncements and his own relationship with him is, of course, the cause of all the continuing questions on the subject. It had not been in him, for instance, to say publicly that for a pastor to have preached that the U.S. government had embarked on a project to inject blacks with AIDS was an outrage on truth and decency. He delivered a celebrated speech on race, one generally hailed as a masterwork, that was supposed to have explained it all. It was a work masterly, above all, in its evasiveness. Even its admirers, prepared to swallow his repeated resort to descriptions like “controversial” for the pastor’s hate-filled rants, couldn’t quite give Sen. Obama a pass when it came to his beloved white grandmother, or to the not so beloved Geraldine Ferraro, both of whom he suggested were racists in their own right.

These issues – the unanswered, the suspect – which outraged press partisans have for days attempted to dismiss as trivia and gossip, largely forgotten by the public, are unlikely to be forgotten, either today or in the general election, nor are they trivial. This, Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos clearly understood when they chose their questions. Mr. Obama’s answers told far more than he or his managers wished.

Offered a chance to explain the meaning of his remarks about the reasons people living in small towns cling to guns and religion, he went on to repeat them all over again in different words. What there was in those remarks, what attitudes shown, that had offended people, he had still not grasped. In short, what he had said that day he’d meant to say. “What you are, picks its way,” as Walt Whitman told us.

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