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Reporters Still Buying That Wright Mess Was Obama's Finest Hour

On Monday, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz assessed the new book Game Change by liberal elite journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann and questioned its anonymous sourcing. He also noticed that the staffers of election winners never seem to have any gripes about their leading man. Halperin and Heilemann sounded like they're still offering valentines to Obama on the campaign trail:

Obama is the one candidate in Game Change who most closely resembles his public persona. During the Rev. Jeremiah Wright uproar, his performance - "calm, methodical, precise and strategic - impressed his team immensely," with strategists Anita Dunn thinking "this is a guy I want in a foxhole with me" and David Axelrod being "blown away" by Obama's writing of a major address on race. [Italics by Kurtz.]

Perhaps Obama's character is unusually consistent. But the portrait may also reflect the fact that aides on a winning campaign had little dirt to dish and even less incentive, since many of them are now running the country.

How two journalists who are so raw in peeling any artifice away from John and Elizabeth Edwards can accept at face value this syrupy story about the Obama campaign's biggest crisis - the alleged healer of the racial divide nodding in the pews at Wright's church for two decades - is mind-boggling.

Kurtz is right that winning aides don't dish as much dirt - but it also seems right that these reporters feel safer trashing Democrats who have no political future, and they don't have much interest in harming Obama's place in history.

There's another mind-boggling moment in the Kurtz article. Journalists would not accept a president or a corporate CEO insisting that secrecy is in the public interest, just as a matter of the "right to know."

But these authors are so rigidly attached to preserving the anonymity of their sources that they'll look ridiculous refusing to confirm their sources, even when the sources admit conversations - and they baldly state the "public interest" demands that they keep the sources of their juicy gossip a secret, even if they're not:

Game Change caused an immediate furor by quoting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as having said "privately" that Obama could win the presidency because he was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect." Reid apologized for the clumsy remarks, which his office confirmed he made to Halperin and Heilemann. But even with their source admitting the conversation, the authors refuse to confirm that they interviewed Reid.

It's not "in the public interest," Halperin argues, for them to "get on the slippery slope" of acknowledging interviews.

There is no doubt that it's in the authors' profit interest to dish a lot of juicy stories without revealing who's offering the footnote. One wonders how a book called The Secret Life of Mark Halperin would look stuffed with anonymous sources saying he's an egotistical monster who can't tell the difference between North Korea and South Korea. Would he then feel it was in the "public interest" to keep the tale tellers secret?

There's unintentional humor at the end of the Kurtz piece, with the authors suggesting they were really kept in the dark on the campaign trail, and their post-campaign interviews were eye-openers:

"We would sit with people and things would pop out of their mouths that astonished us on a regular basis," Heilemann says. "You realize that during the campaign we were walking around with paper bags over our heads."

But the real metaphor for the people walking around with paper bags over their heads are the sources these authors are protecting for fun and profit.

-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.