Yesterday, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post had a piece up about the increasingly “presumptuous” campaign that Barack Obama is running. Bob Somerby (rightly, in my mind) called the article a “gruesome performance” and Glenn Greenwald agrees. In an effort to act like anything I say or do can actually help shame the press corps into better coverage, I decided to send an e-mail to the Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell. The e-mail is below:
Greetings. My name is Michael Preston and I am writing to you in regards to Dana Milbank’s column (“President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour”, 7/30/2008). In the piece, Mr. Milbank attempts to portray Barack Obama as being “presumptuous” about his status in the race for the White House against John McCain, as a person who is merely awaiting a coronation in November. To advance this narrative, Mr. Milbank resorts to truncating quotes, indulging in the use of dubious sources, and omitting competeting facts that would greatly alter the image Mr. Milbank attempts to draw.
Near the beginning of his piece, Mr. Milbank writes:
“Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, ‘This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,’ adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”
If that is exactly what Mr. Obama said, then it could perhaps be damning if the intention was to show that he is possesed of an outsized ego. However, political reporter Marc Ambiner of the Atlantic Monthly, posted the quote in full and a different picture emerges:
“It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol…” Obama said, according to the campaign.” (Bolding mine)
By removing those two lines, Mr. Milbank effectively ripped the full context out of the quote and was able to portray Obama in a negative light. As Ambinder went on to note in regards to the Obama quote:
“He’s kind of right. Not universally so, and there’s real way to know how Iraqis or Jordanians viewed his visit, but if the European elite even marginally reflects or influences the views of Europeans, then a whole lot of them associate Obama with a restoration of American (a) glory or (b) humility, depending on the country. To put it another way, Europeans see Obama as being on the right side of history. Not all of them. But a lot of them.”
Mr. Milbank goes on to note that:
“Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president’s. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him.”
What Mr. Milbank neglects to mention here, is that several of these security measures were actions taken, not by the campaign, but by the Capitol Police and Secret Service and that Mr. McCain has also had traffic stopped or redirected for him as well:
“The Capitol Police and the Secret Service, not the Obama campaign, closed the halls for Obama to pass yesterday. If you’re inclined to think Obama presumptuous for this, then John McCain is also on your list; last week in Columbus, the police department there gave him full intersection control during rush hour.”
Again, Mr. Milbank ignores contrary, factual evidence because it seems to go against the grain of the point he was trying to make.
Mr. Milbank also indulges in some questionable sourcing, using the nebulous “some say” formualtion in talking about how the Obama campaign views its chances for the fall. Why can’t Mr. Milbank name the “some” to whom he reffers? He then goes on to say that Obama has a transition team up and running in case he wins the election, but he neglects to mention that McCain is also making preparations for a team as well (and that George W. Bush has one up and running at this state of his 2000 presidential campaign):
“Bush put one together around this time in 2000, and Reagan began making post-election plans in early 1980. Also, according to NBC, McCain is “already working on policy and political proposals so they could hit the ground running.”
Again, it appears that if the facts don’t fit Mr. Milbanks narrative, then he ignores them. I know that Mr. Milbank is supposed to be something more akin to a commentator than a reporter, but, still, as one who is about to enter the field of journalism, I would expect that journalists should still be expected to deal in facts and present honest arguments. Mr. Milbank’s column does neither.