New York Times political reporter Ashley Parker dominated the paper this weekend, getting front page stories both Saturday and Sunday, one praising a liberal Democrat as a diligent workhorse (just like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton!), the other criticizing a conservative Republican as controversial and out of the mainstream.
On Saturday's front page she fawned over liberal, former comedian Sen. Al Franken: "Franken’s Campaign Against Comcast Is No Joke." On Sunday she turned around and called out the "strains" in the Republican Party in a U.S. Senate primary race in North Carolina, warning of "far-right Senate candidates" that had won primaries in 2012 only to lose in the general.
Parker described how the proposed merger of Comcast with Time Warner Cable "became personal" for Franken at a Saturday Night Live cast party:
It was a potentially awkward moment that Mr. Franken defused with the kind of blustery humor that delighted audiences during his years as an entertainer. “We all had a laugh, fun was had by all, and I went on,” he said in an interview.
But for Mr. Franken, antitrust issues involving big companies are no joking matter. The man who created such famous “Saturday Night Live” characters as the self-help guru Stuart Smalley is now a serious policy wonk and a self-made expert in antitrust matters like price-fixing and monopolization.
The photo caption underlined Parker's slavish tone: "Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, is known among colleagues for his diligence, particularly on antitrust matters."
Parker worked in an impressive ricochet pander for both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, then lined up Democratic senators to praise Franken (there was no criticism of the liberal senator):
As a senator, Mr. Franken has followed the workhorse model of previous senators who came in surrounded by hype, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and focused on the minutiae of legislation. He usually speaks only to the Minnesota press, and even his more whimsical pursuits are local in nature, like the Annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Off, a casserole competition among the state’s lawmakers that Mr. Franken organized.
“If you had to pick a word for Al Franken as a senator, it’s ‘studious,’ ” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “He really studies the issues hard, he’s very serious about them, and he’s effective.”
Far from cracking wise, he has earned a reputation as a student of the fine details of policy and legislation. He spent his 62nd birthday last year immersed late into the night at a Senate Judiciary Committee session, marking up a broad bipartisan immigration bill; at one point, as the hours ticked by, forcing Mr. Franken to miss a family birthday dinner, the Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware presented him with a vanilla buttercream cupcake.
“That’s Al Franken the senator,” Mr. Coons said. “He is engaged, he is diligent, he is thorough, he is thoughtful.”
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, echoed the praise. “He’s been one of the best-prepared people there, and is very valuable in committee,” Mr. Leahy said. “He certainly knows a lot about the business, far more than most of us would on a personal basis.”
Mr. Franken’s deep understanding of -- and near obsession with -- telecommunications mergers has impressed even those involved in antitrust debates. Albert A. Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, which opposes mergers, still recalls a speech Mr. Franken, who is not a lawyer, gave on the subject to the American Bar Association two years ago, calling it “beautiful.”
By contrast, here's Parker on Sunday's front page from Durham: "North Carolina Shows Strains Within G.O.P."
There is a Tea Party candidate who talks about the Constitution and has the backing of Senator Rand Paul. There is a Baptist pastor, endorsed by Mike Huckabee, who wears a “Jesus First” lapel pin and has led the fight against same-sex marriage. And there is a Republican state lawmaker -- supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and $1 million from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group -- standing up for the party establishment.
In the high-profile Republican primary for Senate here, the divisions that are gripping the party nationally are playing out powerfully, expensively and often very messily. And, after haunting losses in 2012 in which far-right Senate candidates prevailed in primaries only to collapse in the general election, the Republican establishment is determined to stifle the more radical challengers.
The Democratic incumbent, Kay Hagan, is seen as vulnerable, but Parker located trouble spots.
Some party leaders privately worry that [Greg] Brannon, if he prevails in the primary, could doom their chances in the fall. He was recently found guilty of misleading two investors in a failed start-up company and has been ordered to pay them back more than $450,000, a verdict he is appealing.
He also has a history of remarks that even some in his own party consider provocative: He has praised Jesse Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina who never renounced racial segregation, as a “modern hero,” and during the 2012 election said a vote for Mr. Romney would “advance tyranny.” Some of the leaders liken him to Todd Akin, the Republican congressman who won the 2012 primary to face Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, only to alienate voters with comments suggesting that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant.
Parker called Brannon a "Tea Party firebrand" for good measure.