Correction to This Article
This column says that Sen. Barack Obama bought land from an indicted businessman, referring to Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Obama made the purchase in 2005, and Rezko was not indicted until 2006.

'Soft' Press Sharpens Its Focus on Obama

Journalists, accused of giving Sen. Barack Obama an easier time than they've given his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are now scrutinizing him more closely, including his lapels.
Journalists, accused of giving Sen. Barack Obama an easier time than they've given his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are now scrutinizing him more closely, including his lapels. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2008

During a campaign stop in Ohio last week, ABC's Jake Tapper asked Barack Obama about what he called "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic."

Tapper's litany: "That you didn't put your hand over your heart during the national anthem, that you no longer wear an American flag on your lapel pin, that you met with some former members of the Weather Underground, and now they are questioning your wife's comments when she said she hasn't been proud of the U.S. until just recently."

Obama dismissed the criticism as "nonsense." But did the exchange mark the end of a long period in which the media have gone easy on the man who could all but clinch the Democratic nomination in tomorrow's primaries? Are the media going to change the environment that prompted Kristen Wiig, playing a CNN anchor on "Saturday Night Live," to declare that she and her colleagues "are in the tank for Obama"?

The Illinois senator still hasn't faced the sort of negative onslaught that generally envelops presidential front-runners. But after a year of defying the laws of journalistic gravity, he is being brought back to earth.

Some of this involves recycled reporting that didn't get much traction the first time around. Within the last two weeks, ABC's "World News" has done a story on Obama voting "present" nearly 130 times as an Illinois legislator, two months after that information was on the New York Times front page. "NBC Nightly News" has followed up a two-week-old Times piece about Obama compromising on Senate legislation affecting a nuclear energy company that contributed to his campaign. A "CBS Evening News" segment reviewed a series of negative points -- Obama's controversial pastor, his ties to indicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, voting present, the nuclear contributions and the lack of a flag pin.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton maintains the media have "consistently examined both his public and personal record." Burton calls suggestions of soft treatment "a false premise that is advocated by a couple of members of the media and the Clinton campaign. The investigative teams at the networks, major national news organizations and the Chicago papers would take great issue with the notion they haven't examined Barack Obama's record." The Chicago newspapers have been the most aggressive by far.

Some conservative commentators, after years of obsessing over Hillary Clinton, are now training their fire on Obama. Cincinnati radio host Bill Cunningham, appearing at a John McCain event, generated a wave of coverage last week by challenging the media to "peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama."

In his Times column, Bill Kristol picked up on Obama's comment in October that he views wearing a flag pin as a substitute for true patriotism. "Obama's unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin," Kristol declared.

Erick Erickson, editor of the blog RedState, wrote that voters should be wary of "the liberal anti-gun former cokehead whose feminist wife hates America."

Michelle Obama became talk-show fodder when she said on Feb. 18 that "for the first time in my adult life, I'm really proud of my country." But for the following week, there was no mention of the flap in a Washington Post or New York Times news story, although the Los Angeles Times jumped on the controversy.

There was also little pickup when the Politico reported that a decade ago Obama visited Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers, the 1960s radicals whose Weather Underground group was involved in two dozen bombings. And the issue of Obama's dealings with Rezko all but vanished after a brief flurry until the run-up to his trial, which begins today.

Similarly, there was scant media mention of Louis Farrakhan's support for Obama until Tim Russert challenged the senator to repudiate that support at last week's MSNBC debate -- making Russert the target of some liberal bloggers who say he went overboard on the issue.

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