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Obama? So Handsome, And Probably Delicious

If Sen. Barack Obama runs for president, media coverage will turn from gush to scrutiny. But he may sell a lot of books in the process.
If Sen. Barack Obama runs for president, media coverage will turn from gush to scrutiny. But he may sell a lot of books in the process. (By Alan Dep -- Associated Press)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 30, 2006

"Why Barack Obama Could Be Our Next President," says Time's cover.

"Would you announce on this show?" Oprah Winfrey asked.

"If your party says to you, 'We need you' -- and there's already a drumbeat out there -- will you respond?" NBC's Meredith Vieira asked.

When the media fall in love with a promising politician, they usually shower him with accolades as a way of enticing him into a big-time race. But in the case of Obama, who has been a senator for less than two years, some are dispensing with the niceties.

From the left: "You embody the politics of hope. But such moments don't last forever. I hope you run," writes Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page.

From the right: "Barack Obama should run for president. . . . Obama is a new kind of politician," writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Unreal. The Illinois Democrat waded into this by hawking his new book, and when Obama answered Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" question eight days ago by saying he is thinking about running in 2008 -- rather than the usual phony dodge -- the floodgates opened. It was front-page news in The Washington Post, and the New York Times weighed in with a piece examining the impact on Hillary Rodham Clinton. Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg says Obama would be the instant front-runner.

The subtext is a journalistic hunger for a young, attractive black candidate who somehow seems to transcend race. Not since the media establishment tried to draft Colin Powell for president in 1995 have reporters, columnists and talk show hosts so openly swooned over a potential White House occupant.

Of course, Powell engaged in a great tease about his political intentions and never did make a run, but sold 2 million copies of his autobiography in the process. Could Obama be playing a similar game?

"It seems that the whole media establishment has just been snookered by the PR blitz designed just to sell the book," Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, said in a CNN interview.

Obama's appeal isn't hard to fathom. With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, a stint as president of the Harvard Law Review and a style that is both charismatic and conciliatory, he seems to offer an antidote to today's polarizing politics. But with a war raging in Iraq and terror threats around the globe, are the media really pushing someone who two years ago was a state senator in Springfield, Ill.?

To which some of the pundits are replying: Experience? Who needs experience? That just makes you more vulnerable to negative ads. More Senate seasoning, they say, will make Obama seem like just another droning Washington pol.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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