Reporter Jodi Kantor, who Times Watch justrecognized as providing some of the most slanted coverage during the campaign, boosted President-Elect Obama with a flattering 2,500-word front- page profile of FOO (Friend of Obama) Valerie Jarrett, "An Old Hometown Mentor, Still at Obama's Side." Jarrett will enter the White House next January as senior adviser to Obama.
On a dark afternoon last week, the road to Jerusalem and Beijing momentarily veered through the office of a real estate company here.
"You don't need to thank me," she said soothingly to a booming male voice on her cellphone. "I just wanted you to have a chance to make your case."
If someone were to rank the long list of people who helped Barack and Michelle Obama get where they are today, Ms. Jarrett would be close to the top. Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Jarrett swept the young lawyers under her wing, introduced them to a wealthier and better-connected Chicago than their own, and eventually secured contacts and money essential to Mr. Obama's long-shot Senate victory.
In the crush of his presidential campaign, Ms. Jarrett could have fallen by the wayside, as old mentors often do. But the opposite happened: Using her intimacy with the Obamas, two BlackBerrys and a cellphone, Ms. Jarrett, a real estate executive and civic leader with no national campaign experience, became an internal mediator and external diplomat who secured the trust of black leaders, forged peace with Clintonites and helped talk Mr. Obama through major decisions.
Kantor warned Washington not to underestimate Jarrett:
Washingtonians who assess the new White House crew sometimes cast Ms. Jarrett in parochial terms: she is the hometown buddy, they say, or the one who will hear out the concerns of black leaders. They note that presidential friends do not always fare well in the capital, that confidants from Arkansas and Texas have stumbled in the corridors of the West Wing.
Asked what was her biggest worry about the job, which is a major leap from anything she has undertaken before, Ms. Jarrett said she sometimes feared she did not know enough. "I will try to do my homework," she said.
Ms. Jarrett, 52, has often been underestimated: perhaps because she is often the only black woman at the boardroom tables where she sits, or perhaps because she can seem girlish, with a pixie haircut, singsong voice and suits that earned her a recent profile in Vogue.
Kantor has everything and more you ever wanted to know about Jarrett - unless you wanted answers to questions about Jarrett's professional competence raised in a June 27 Boston Globe story by Binyamin Appelbaum:
The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can't afford to live anywhere else.
But it's not safe to live here.
About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale - a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.
Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing - an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.
The Globe described Jarrett as the "chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems."
But what was cause for concern at the Times' sister paper the Globe was reduced to a dependent clause in Kantor's telling for the Times. Kantor devoted more space to praising Jarrett's expertise in "urban affairs," a trait the Globe story called into serious question:
A protégée of Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, Ms. Jarrett served as his planning commissioner, ran a real estate company, the Habitat Company - whose management of public housing projects has come under scrutiny with Ms. Jarrett's rise - and sits on too many boards to count. She is an expert in urban affairs, particularly housing and transportation, in an administration expected to lavish more money and attention on cities than its predecessors.
More flattery from Kantor:
In her years at City Hall, Ms. Jarrett absorbed several Daley leadership precepts: tough negotiation, pragmatism and block-by-block attention to the city's fabric. She developed a specialty in dealing with extremely angry people. After a flood swept through the basements of downtown offices in 1992, Ms. Jarrett had the unenviable task of talking to the building owners. A few years later, as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, Ms. Jarrett had to defend service cuts before irate residents.