Runaway

A Washington Post editorial says that what the public believes is true about Obama's reception in Iraq isn't. But does it matter?

The initial media coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy.

First impressions often last. And "initial" coverage sometimes molds public perception more permanently than subsequent corrections. "Initial" coverage is on Page One; editorials are on page A14. The Washington Post is worried by Obama's disturbing policy declarations on Iraq, but comforts itself by imagining he really doesn't mean it. But even the editors are unable convince themselves.

Will Iraq be written off because Mr. Obama does not consider it important enough -- or will the strategy be altered? Arguably, Mr. Obama has given himself the flexibility to adopt either course. Yesterday he denied being "so rigid and stubborn that I ignore anything that happens during the course of the 16 months," though this would be more reassuring if Mr. Obama were not rigidly and stubbornly maintaining his opposition to the successful "surge" of the past 16 months. He also pointed out that he had "deliberately avoided providing a particular number" for the residual force of Americans he says would be left behind.

Yet Mr. Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.

Debilitating to Obama or to the country? Large parts of the media implicitly bet the farm on BHO when they threw their de facto support behind him. Former Clinton Secretary Dee Dee Myers wrote:

Obama is The One. In the first quarter of the general election, he has simply gotten more and better coverage than McCain. For those who need more evidence than the enormous press entourage that is treating Obama’s current trip not like the campaign swing of a presidential candidate, but like the international debut of the New American President, there are several new studies which help quantify the disparity.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which evaluates more than 300 newspaper, magazine, and television stories each week, found that from June 9 (after Obama had wrapped up the Democratic nomination) until July 13, Obama was more prominently covered every single week. During one particular week, July 7–13, McCain was a significant presence in 48 percent of the stories—but Obama met that mark in 77 percent of the pieces. Similarly, the Tyndall Report, a media monitoring group, found that Obama received substantially more media attention.

And now they're worried about "debilitating"? One bet the media may have already lost is the gamble that they can turn Obama's momentum on and off. Despite snide remarks about Obama speaking before the Temple of Hercules or modeling Paul Bremer hiking boots the press have already built him up to the point where they need him more than he needs them. He has become the story. Without him there would be no headlines; no sales. The storyline alternative to BHO is John McCain. And John McCain doesn't sell newspapers. Obama is now larger than the coverage itself and is able to dictate the terms of access; which outlets to punish or reward. Maybe the Press is discovering what Jeremiah Wright, Jesse Jackson and Tony Rezko have long since found out: that they are not as important as they thought they were. But Obama is. And if the Washington Post has suddenly discovered (when did they find out?) that BHO is actually promising to throw a strategic country in the Middle East to the wolves and deploy troops to where Osama Bin Laden isn't, unless he invades the neighboring country, then so what?

He's no longer just running for President but striding forward to claim his destiny. Once the expectation of an Obama victory exceeds a certain point an actual electoral defeat would cause psychological damage to the trust mechanisms of political system, like a long announced celebration party or holiday that unaccountably never happens. He's a runaway . I almost feel sorry for the media. Almost.


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