Last night, I was shocked to see that the L.A. Times had clearly and prominently told readers that Obama had made (and has now violated) a pledge to use public financing.
Readers were told about Obama’s pledge right up front, in clear headlines. Also, readers were told that Obama had said “yes” when asked if he would use public financing if the Republican did. The “yes” was not portrayed as a mere promise to pursue an agreement with McCain.
All in all, it was a surprisingly fair story.
Thank God, some editors got hold of that story and fuzzed it up so that Obama doesn’t look so bad.
In the version appearing on the front page of today’s print edition, any evidence that Obama actually made a pledge is buried on Page A12, and so watered down that the reader can’t quite tell what he really promised.
Yup, this is the story I had expected to see.
The headline in the print edition, which is now the headline used on the main web page, reads as follows:
Obama sets his own terms for race
He rejects federal funds for the chance to spend much as much private money as he wants, some of it in red states.
Oh, well hey, good for him! We want people to set their own terms! That’s certainly a very positive thing, wouldn’t you agree? Who wants to have their terms set by someone else?
Similarly, in the current web version of the story, any hint of going back on a pledge has been removed from the headline, as well as the deck headline, which reads as follows: “The likely Democratic presidential candidate is poised to spend big, with the extra money going for ads in red states.”
Good for him again! And the lede sentence makes it clear that he has been freed from a restraint, which is also a big positive;
Freed from a serious fundraising constraint, Barack Obama is positioned to mount a general-election campaign on a scale the nation has never seen, fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations.
It’s so wonderful to break free from fundraising constraints. Especially serious ones. This is so great for him!
In the seventh paragraph, we’re told that McCain accused Obama of breaking a pledge:
He accused Obama of breaking a promise to abide by the federal spending limit.
Those crazy presidential candidates! Always with the accusations! What a grumpy old guy that McCain is.
Any hint of evidence that McCain might be right comes in the ninth paragraph. And guess what?
That’s on the back pages.
Yup, the story moves to page A12 right there in the eighth paragraph, so that the first hint that McCain was right — that Obama really did break a pledge — comes on the back pages, where most readers don’t bother to turn.
And just look how they soften the blow:
Though Obama’s decision made strategic sense, it left some good-government groups discouraged, predicting it would only fuel the money chase in politics. Complicating matters for Obama, he wrote in a campaign questionnaire last November that he was committed to public financing.
Yes, that does complicate matters for him. Rather inconvenient, that.
Waay, waaaay, waaaaaaaaaaaay down in the story we’re given the details of the questionnaire, which they now manage to spin as a mere promise that he would “aggressively pursue” such an agreement:
When he answered the campaign questionnaire in November, he was asked by the Midwest Democracy Network whether he would take part in the public financing system. Yes, he replied, adding that if he became the nominee he would “aggressively pursue an agreement” with his Republican counterpart to “preserve a publicly financed election.”
This makes it sound like he said: “Yes, I will aggressively pursue an agreement.” That’s not what he said. In the first sentence of his answer, he said: “Yes.” Period, full stop.
It took seven more sentences to mention pursuing an agreement.
Once again, here is the quote from the questionnaire. Note the beginning of the answer: “Yes.” Only seven sentences later, after a bunch of claptrap about how much he loves public financing, does he talk about pursuing an agreement:
If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?
OBAMA: Yes. I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests. I introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State Senate, and am the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) bill to reform the presidential public financing system. In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.
This is much more the kind of story I expected from the L.A. Times. Peter Nicholas and a clueless headline writer were far too clear and direct in the first version. Luckily, a new reporter came in to help, and some experienced editors helped layer some gook and muck on there, to confuse the issue and make Obama’s pledge seem much more watered down.
So now I don’t have to parade naked after all.