The New York Times prizes itself as the newspaper of record, as the very definition of prestige media. So it's a little shocking to see them spreading the latest headlines from the Globe supermarket tabloid. Sheryl Gay Stolberg's mournful story about Obama's "otherness" and how "Misperceptions Stick" about the president began:
Americans need only stand in line at the grocery checkout counter to glimpse the conspiracy theories percolating about President Obama. "Birthplace Cover-Up," screams the current issue of the racy tabloid Globe. "Obama's Secret Life Exposed!"
The article claims, without proof, that Mr. Obama uses a phony Social Security number as "part of an elaborate scheme to conceal that he is not a natural-born U.S. citizen." Despite evidence to the contrary from Obama aides - they posted his birth certificate, from Hawaii, on the Internet during his presidential campaign - polls show that as many as one quarter of Americans still believe Mr. Obama was born outside the United States.
This must be more publicity for a Globe tabloid concoction than you'd see out of Fox News or the Rush Limbaugh program. But it's used to illustrate how the president is bedeviled by lies. Stolberg didn't seem to consider that the Globe and other supermarket tabloids also published stories about Laura Bush divorcing President Bush, of Bush is "back on the bottle," and so on. But that didn't seem to outrage the New York Times.
Stolberg's melodramatic woe-is-Barry intro was meant to set up the latest Pew Research Center poll, in which "18 percent now believe he is Muslim," and even "Among Democrats, for example, just 46 percent said Obama was Christian, down from 55 percent in March 2009." She also went back to the birthers:
As to the issue of his birthplace, a CNN poll released this month when the president turned 49 found that 27 percent of Americans doubted he was born in the United States. A New York Times/ CBS News poll in April put the figure at 20 percent." The Times illustrated the story with a birther sign from "members of the Tea Party movement in San Francisco" in May.
The humorous segment of the story came soon after: "Dan Pfeiffer,the White House communications director, said aides did work hard to push back against misinformation in a news media environment in which 'the tweets of discredited rabble-rousers have as much credence to many as the pronouncements of the paper of record.'"
Pfeiffer did not acknowledge the "paper of record," the Times has employed a few "discredited rabble-rousers" all its own. Then, Stolberg's stenography from the White House really began, starting with a professor most appropriately named Gushee:
"This is a president who gave really compelling speeches about faith and values, memorable stuff," said the Rev. Dr. David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University who has advised Mr. Obama on religious matters. "And you're not hearing that voice right now." The White House says the public - and the press - are not listening. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has given six speeches either from a church pulpit or addressing religion in public life - including an Easter prayer breakfast where he "offered a very personal and candid reflection of what the Resurrection means to him," said Joshua DuBois, who runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
But the Easter address attracted scant attention in the news media.
That would also be true of a prayer breakfast address to pastors by President Bush. Here's the one sentence the New York Times provided on April 7, 2010, in a story on the West Virginia coal mine collapse: "In Washington on Tuesday during an Easter prayer breakfast,
President Obama offered his condolences to the families of the victims
and said the federal government was ready to help in whatever way
Then Stolberg really sidestepped hard facts and misled the reader: "And the fact that the Obama family has not joined a church in Washington - the president has said his presence would be too disruptive - has not helped, because the public rarely sees images of them attending services."
She doesn't mention that the president's attendance at religious services can be counted on one hand, and he skipped the pews at Christmas. She doesn't even hint at the fact that President Obama is much more likely to go golfing on a Sunday than go to church. At least Stolberg didn't repeat the line that Obama effectively replaces church services with ten-second glances at inspirational verses on his BlackBerry, another spin that Joshua DuBois and the White House have employed.
Stolberg then provided another White House-orchestrated source, in addition to Gushee and DuBois:
The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House's behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.
"I must say," Mr. Caldwell said, "never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar."
That's a rather astonishing ending for the Times. It's one thing to suggest the American people are suffering from misperceptions. It's another to suggest a large fraction of the American people are ignobly calling Obama a liar.
On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh responded by suggesting the press seems to be catering to the White House and its journalistic colleagues, and the ignorant, unsophisticated (supermarket-tabloid-gobbling) public has become the enemy. "The New York Times didn't write this to inform you," he said in singling out the Stolberg article.