I noticed yesterday that one of the New York Times blogs, The Caucus, had an item on how a gaggle of right-wingers is promising to do a “documentary” that will expose the dark side of Barack Obama. ‘Bout time! Here’s a guy who for years has been leaving a trail of unpleasant secrets. He has even written books full of assertions that people can fact check to find out what a self-aggrandizer he is.
The Times itself begins the process of exposing the mendacity with a 1,751-word story this morning–“Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life“– that investigates his claims that he used drugs as a youth. That’s right: Obama says he used drugs and has suggested both in writing and on the campaign trail that his occasional pot smoking, drinking and cocaine sniffing was troubling and unwise.
But the Times is blowing the lid off those claims. The story says that “more than three dozen interviews” with “friends, classmates and mentors” from his high school and college years find that Obama is remembered as “grounded, motivated, and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed to dabble only with marijuana.”
What could account for the discrepancy the Times seems intent on manufacturing? Ready? Here it is:
“[It] [could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic.
That’s right. Obama didn’t walk around in a drug-induced haze. His pupils weren’t chronically dilated to the size of dinner plates. He didn’t drool. He didn’t share what was going on in his head with everyone in his circle. Different people might have perceived his situation differently from how he saw it. Either that, or he’s a liar.
The Times is in a quandary. It’s spending a lot of time looking at the lives of the candidates for president, and it’s uncovering a lot of information. Most will be either previously known or innocuous. Some will be suggestive about the candidates’ character or shed some light on their thinking and might even give a hint at what sort of chief executive they might be. If the editors find that someone is a liar or a cheat and they don’t tell the world, then they’re failing their duty to inform. Often, what they find out falls into a gray area: It’s not clear exactly what it means one way or the other. What do you do with it then? Keep looking for evidence? Shelve it? Publish something that essentially says nothing pertinent about the question at hand?
The Times chose another option: to take what they found and couch it in a highly leading way. Because others don’t remember the handful of incidents Obama related, and because he seemed to be the paragon of a bright, interested and ambitious student, then doubt shrouds what Obama says about himself. After all, there’s no way someone who took the occasional drag on a joint or did a line of cocaine could have been the guy people remember.
That conclusion will vanish, because there’s nothing to it. But you wonder whether it was something the Times had to print to live up to its famous motto. One can’t avoid observing the irony, though, that a while ago we had a president who was justifiably scoffed at for claimiing “he didn’t inhale” when he toked up; our current president was a recalcitrant boozer and (and perhaps a coke snorter, too) well into adulthood; and still, someone could find grounds to criticize someone on the ground that maybe — maybe! — he didn’t inhale as much as he said he did.