Cam­paign­ing on killing bin Laden? No, never!

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

There is a par­tic­u­lar me­dia con­ceit that, in the garb of pur­ported im­pec­ca­ble dis­clo­sure, is in fact a li­cense for news sources to mar­ket talk­ing points.

A hi­lar­i­ous ex­am­ple of the breed can be found in an ar­ti­cle by Anne E. Korn­blut in the May 8 edi­tion of The Wash­ing­ton Post. The ar­ti­cle is about the White House’s in­tended use of the killing of Osama bin Laden and is ti­tled “Bin Laden raid fits into Obama’s ‘big things’ mes­sage.”

The phrase in ques­tion com­prises the ital­i­cized words in the fol­low­ing quote: “A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial,

who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak freely about in­ter­nal think­ing,

said the White House is not de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy to lever­age the raid in other dif­fi­cult are­nas, such as the bud­get or debt-ceil­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Repub­li­cans. The of­fi­cial in­sisted it would not change the over­all mes­sage or ap­proach of the 2012 cam­paign, which has long been de­scribed as a cam­paign fo­cused on the econ­omy. Still, it al­most cer­tainly will help a pres­i­dent elected on ‘hope’ and ‘change’ to shift his next cam­paign in a new direc­tion.” Of course, the en­tire point of the ar­ti­cle was the op­po­site of what the un­named of­fi­cial said: The White House staff is, in fact, itch­ing to take po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage of the bin Laden killing. In­deed, the con­stant quotes of clumsy de­nials of po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions by se­nior White House of­fi­cials are the art­ful leit­mo­tif of the en­tire ar­ti­cle.

Ad­mit­tedly, the se­nior of­fi­cial was merely fol­low­ing an old, reg­u­larly used Wash­ing­ton tac­tic: go­ing on back­ground not nec­es­sar­ily to speak the truth, but to spin the of­fice talk­ing point — and make it sound like an in­side rev­e­la­tion rather than just a stan­dard piece of pro­pa­ganda for mass con­sump­tion.

While The Post, the New York Times and other such me­dia reg­u­larly use word­ing sim­i­lar to the ital­i­cized phrase, in this in­stance, the en­tire ar­ti­cle is a sub­stan­tive refu­ta­tion of the phrase.

As a re­sult, the phrase ac­tu­ally is mis­re­port­ing facts ob­served by the re­porter.

(Let me em­pha­size, this is not the re­porter’s fault. It is the news out­let’s pol­icy and is en­forced by its ed­i­tors. The re­porter has no say in such mat­ters.)

Other than the of­fend­ing phrase, this is an ex­cep­tion­ally good piece of writ­ing.

The White House staff is not likely to be happy with a Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle that ex­plic­itly con­tra­dicts the words quoted in the ar­ti­cle by se­nior aides to the pres­i­dent on one of the most po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive top­ics any White House has had to han­dle.

Con­sider the open­ing sen­tence of the ar­ti­cle: “Ad­vis­ers to Pres­i­dent Obama are tip­toe­ing care­fully around the po­lit­i­cal bounce he re­ceived af­ter the suc­cess­ful raid on Osama.” As the ar­ti­cle dis­closes, they are tip­toe­ing about as care­fully as a drunk fat man at 3 in the morn­ing (my phrase, not the re­porter’s.)

David Ax­el­rod, the pres­i­dent’s top po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, is de­scribed in the ar­ti­cle as “care­ful not to paint the raid as a per­sonal vic­tory for the pres­i­dent.

It “was not a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise, so I don’t want to treat it as such,” he said.”

But ob­vi­ously, he was not care­ful enough to fool the Post re­porter, who, a few para­graphs be­fore that quote, pointed out that “Obama is al­ready stitching the vic­tory into the broader ta­pes­try of his 2012 re-elec­tion cam­paign. . . . And al­though the White House ad­vis­ers in­sist they are not in­cor­po­rat­ing the bin Laden raid into their politi- cal plan­ning for 2012, they ac­knowl­edge it has the po­ten­tial to do more than sim­ply re­shape [Mr. Obama’s] im­age as a de­ci­sive leader.”

Ar­ti­cles like this tend to close with a last-line kicker.

Here, the clos­ing line is a quote from the pres­i­dent’s press sec­re­tary, Jay Car­ney:

“I think that the pres­i­dent firmly be­lieves that mak­ing the right pol­icy de­ci­sions tends to be ben­e­fi­cial come po­lit­i­cal sea­son, but for him, at least, po­lit­i­cal sea­son is a long way off.”

Given that the ar­ti­cle’s whole point was that the pres­i­dent’s ad­vis­ers are trip­ping over each other try­ing to take im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage of the event, Mr. Car­ney can’t be pleased with the ironic tone im­plicit in his ar­ti­cle-clos­ing quote.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” (Reg­n­ery, 2009) and vice pres­i­dent of the Edel­man pub­lic re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton.

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