Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

On creating a story out of “thin” air

Paul Campos had a great piece today in the Rocky Mountain News that’s a must read for anyone seeking to understand how “journalism” is often practiced these days. The piece he’s addressing is the infamous Amy Chozick “Skinny Obama” story from the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s the method she employed to determine whether Obama’s skinny physique might be a problem for him in the presidential race. She posted the following message on a Yahoo Internet message board: “Does anyone out there think Barack Obama is too thin to be president? Anyone having a hard time relating to him and his ‘no excess body fat’? Please let me know. Thanks!”

And here are the results she gleaned from this intrepid bit of journalism: a total of one purportedly substantive response from what Chozick characterizes as a Clinton supporter but which reads like someone yanking Chozick’s chain. Nevertheless, Chozick quoted this source – somebody going by the name “onlinebeerbellygirl” – to confirm the thesis of her story: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

One unmoderated comment on a Yahoo message board = front page of the Wall Street Journal. And yes, it gets worse.

This wasn’t the only faux pas in Chozick’s story. She also included, without attribution, a passage that closely paraphrased a McCain campaign news release criticizing Obama’s nutritional and exercise habits, and she made the egregious mistake of claiming that there hasn’t been an “overweight” president since William Howard Taft. In fact, according to the definitions used by our public health authorities, most U.S. presidents over the past century have been “overweight,” including the present occupant of the office.

Yes, this is how journalism too often gets practiced these days. An unreliable source, a paraphrased (if not downright plagarized) press release, and you have a story. If you work for the right publication, it’s a front page story that will bounce around the echo chamber mistaken for “conventional wisdom” lately.

Again, read the whole piece. It’s a really great insight into what Obama has had to deal with over the past few months.


August 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

1 Comment »

  1. The good thing to come out of this particular instance was that her premise was so ridiculous to begin with that any person with a half-ounce of common sense can see that the level of attacks on Obama is scraping the bottom of the barrel. He looks downright Teflon-coated if we get to the point where being healthy and lean is under discussion.

    But overall it’s a horrible thing for journalism when the premise is somewhat more remotely plausible.

    Comment by indythink | August 7, 2008 | Reply

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