Scott Shane of the NY Times presents an elegant apologia for Obama's mysterious relationship with unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. Mr. Shane presents the bare bones of many of the allegations made by critics, thereby allowing the Times to defend this piece as fair and two-sided. However, little or no evidence is presented to support the allegations while the Obama denials and current explanations are presented uncritically. The net effect will probably be to convince many people that the Times pushed hard but simply could not find a story here.
I am not convinced and will be back with more when time permits. Meanwhile, do check out Steve Diamond, the dean of this story. I see that his post title includes the word "Whitewash", so I infer he is not pleased with the Times coverage either. I won't look at his work until I have finished my own evaluation but you should peek ahead.
HERE WE GO:
This is an example of a bare-bones allegation in the fifth paragraph:
More recently, conservative critics who accuse Mr. Obama of a stealth radical agenda have asserted that he has misleadingly minimized his relationship with Mr. Ayers, whom the candidate has dismissed as “a guy who lives in my neighborhood” and “somebody who worked on education issues in Chicago that I know.”
Obama's campaign manager David Axelrod told The Politico in February that
"Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."
Obama told George Stepanopolous during the Democratic debate in Philadelphia that
This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.
And the so-called "Fact Check" at the Obama website does not disclose that Obama and Ayers worked together on a failed education reform project from 1995 to 2001, and had probably first teamed up on education reform in 1987.
lie minimization by campaign manage Axelrod is especially important because a bit later Mr. Shane offers this:
“The suggestion that Ayers was a political adviser to Obama or someone who shaped his political views is patently false,” said Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman. Mr. LaBolt said the men first met in 1995 through the education project, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and have encountered each other occasionally in public life or in the neighborhood.
Is Mr. LaBolt even a bit less credible given that Obama's campaign manager either lied or was misinformed on the Obama/Ayers relationship last February? Is he made less credible by the misleading "Fact Check" presented at the candidate's website? I think so, but Times readers are not in a position to judge.
I believe that Mr. LaBolt is engaging in ongoing "minimization" because there are good reasons to believe that Messrs. Obama and Ayers met in 1988 during an earlier push for school reform.
In 1988 Bill Ayers was the coordinator of the ABCs Coalition which took the lead in pushing school reform. Barack Obama's group, the Developing Communities Project, was a member of that coalition. Obama was preparing to leave for Harvard but he wrote in "Dreams of My Father" that he spent his last time in Chicago working on a city-wide push for school reform.
So circumstantial evidence suggests the two men should have met. Does Mr. Shane present any evidence that he followed up on this possibility? Does he offer anyone specifically denying it? No - instead we get another spokesperson who can later claim he was misinformed, just as Axelrod no doubt explained he was misinformed following his February "kids in the same school" howler.
Well, the current Obama story is that the two men met in 1995 and they are sticking to it. That seeming detail becomes important later in their version of how Obama became chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Here is the faux-coverage from Mr. Shane:
That project was part of a national school reform effort financed with $500 million from Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire publisher and philanthropist and President Richard M. Nixon’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Many cities applied for the Annenberg money, and Mr. Ayers joined two other local education activists to lead a broad, citywide effort that won nearly $50 million for Chicago.
In March 1995, Mr. Obama became chairman of the six-member board that oversaw the distribution of grants in Chicago. Some bloggers have recently speculated that Mr. Ayers had engineered that post for him.
"Some bloggers" surely includes Steve Diamond, who detailed the correspondence that preceded the formation of the board and the recruitment of Obama (or my summary). But what is the basis for the speculation that Ayers backed Obama for the chairmanship? Mr. Shane offers none, which means that there is no context against which to weigh the current Obama explanation. But we will let the suspense mount as we press forward with Mr. Shane:
In fact, according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment. Instead, it was suggested by Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based group whose board Mr. Obama, a young lawyer, had joined the previous year. At a lunch with two other foundation heads, Patricia A. Graham of the Spencer Foundation and Adele Simmons of the MacArthur Foundation, Ms. Leff suggested that Mr. Obama would make a good board chairman, she said in an interview. Mr. Ayers was not present and had not suggested Mr. Obama, she said.
Ms. Graham said she invited Mr. Obama to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Chicago and was impressed.
“At the end of the dinner I said, ‘I really want you to be chairman.’ He said, ‘I’ll do it if you’ll be vice chairman,’ ” Ms. Graham recalled, and she agreed.
Well, that's the current story. So what are we being peddled here? As detailed by Steve Diamond, Ms. Leff's board had given money to Bill Ayers prior to 19 and continued to do so afterwards, suggesting there was an ongoing, positive relationship between Mr. Ayers and Ms. Leff. Furthermore, 1994 correspondence from Ms. Leff acknowledges Bill Ayers as the leader of the effort to found and fund the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. So we are being asked to believe that Ms. Leff pulled an end-run past the fellow quarterbacking the Challenge effort and tapped a chairman withut seeking Ayers' input, despite their ongoing, positive relationship. Am I alone in finding that to be implausible? Well, if my only company is Scott Shane, I guess I'll be lonely.
Of course, a key feature of the current story is that it holds the line on the notion that Ayers and Obama met in 1995. If Ms. Leff admits that she ran Obama's name past Ayers (as common courtesy would dictate) she would be left to explain Ayers' reaction. And why in the world would Ayers hand off his big project to a young law school graduate with no background in education that he had never met? I have no idea. But I can imagine that if Bill Ayers had been favorably impressed with Obama when they worked together in 1988 that he would endorse Obama as chairman in 1995. Just a theory! But its a much more coherent theory than the fogbank on offer from Mr. Shane.
Now, why is the Obama campaign unwilling to admit that Obama and Ayers met in 1988? Why ask me - how can I opine on the relationship when I don't even know what it is? Jim Geraghty has kept track of Obama's non-disclosure, so maybe this is just part of that pattern. Or maybe they have specific reasons to conceal the Obama/Ayers relationship. Either way, before we dismiss the relatonship as unimportant I would like to know what it is.
Normal reporters in normal times sniff out cover-ups and try to crack them. In 2008 that rule has been waived for Democratic Presidential candidates not named "Hillary".
HOW SOON THEY FORGET: Speaking of Hillarity,the Times presents her today as "Senator Hilary (sic) Rodham Clinton". C'mon! She is still your state's Senator, glass ceiling or no.
I AM SO, SO REASSURED: Mr. Shane closes with various acquaintances of Mr. Obama assuring us that he is not likely to be making bombs in the basement of the White House. Glad we cleared that up. Now, how about the question of whether Bill Ayers has a hard-left educational philosophy shared by Barack Obama? My guess is that soccer moms (and dads) would be interested to learn about that. But not the soccer moms who read the Times. Stanley Kurtz is excellent on this:
Nor does Ayers see his education work as a repudiation of his early radicalism. On the contrary, Ayers sees his education work as carrying on his radicalism in a new guise. The point of Ayers’ education theory is that the United States is a fundamentally racist and oppressive nation. Students, Ayers believes, ought to be encouraged to resist this oppression. Obama was funding Ayers’ "small schools" project, built around this philosophy. Ayers’ radicalism isn’t something in the past. It’s something to which Obama gave moral and financial support as an adult. So when Shane says that Obama has never expressed sympathy for Ayers’ radicalism, he’s flat wrong. Obama’s funded it.
SPARKLING DIAMOND: OK, "some bloggers" did include Steve Diamond. From his post:
I was interviewed at length by the New York Times for this story - in fact, this was the third Times reporter to interview me about the Ayers/Obama relationship - and I provided the Times with the letters I discuss here. They are not mentioned in the story at all.It may not have helped that the reporter, Scott Shane, specializes in the FBI and CIA and did not seem well equipped to understand the structure and dynamics of a non profit entity like the Annenberg Challenge, had no apparent understanding of educational policy issues or debates, had no prior experience as far as I could tell with Chicago politics or culture and expressed his own sense of "boredom" with the Annenberg Challenge records he reviewed.
BLISTERING: The Captain blasts the Times.
HE GETS IT! Lefty Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly belies his own feigned ignorance:
See, he does know the point of the article.
I'm not even sure what the point of the article is; it simply reinforces what anyone who cares about facts already knows: the reports of Obama's "close ties" to Ayers are absurd.