N.Y. Times Finds Eric Holder's Politically Tone-Deaf -- But They Didn't Notice Last Year

On February 18, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder threw a rhetorical bomb, calling America "a nation of cowards" on the subject of race. On Monday, the New York Times reported that this caused major gaffe havoc inside the Obama administration. He needed a "minder" to watch his mouth. But here's the funny part: the news pages of the Times didn't acknowledge the speech -- for weeks.

On March 8, in a 328-word piece on page A26, Times reporter Helene Cooper made small mention of a "mild rebuke" by Obama in an interview with the paper.

Clay Waters at TimesWatch noted yesterday's story quickly moved from embarrassment over gaffes to the usual nuggets of praise for Holder's thirst for justice:

Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder's reputation is on the mend (that is, if Times readers even knew it had been damaged). That's the thrust of Monday's front-page Holder profile by reporters Jodi Kantor and Charlie Savage: “Getting the Message -- After 9/11 Trial Plan, Holder Hones Political Ear.”

Last winter, when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called the United States a “nation of cowards” for avoiding frank conversations on race, President Obama mildly rebuked him in public.

Out of view, Mr. Obama’s aides did far more. Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina, the White House chief and deputy chief of staff, proposed installing a minder alongside Mr. Holder to prevent further gaffes -- someone with better “political antennae,” as one administration official put it.

When he heard of the proposal at a White House meeting, Mr. Holder fumed; soon after, he confronted his deputy, David W. Ogden, who knew of the plan but had not alerted his boss, according to several officials. Mr. Holder fought off the proposal, signaling that his job was about the law, not political messaging.

A year later, he is no longer so certain. His most important plan -- to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, in federal court in Manhattan -- collapsed before it even began, after support from the public and local officials withered.

Now Mr. Holder has switched from resisting what he had considered encroachment by White House political officials to seeking their guidance. Two weeks ago, he met with advisers there to discuss how to unite against common foes. They agreed to allow Mr. Holder, who has not appeared on a Sunday talk show since entering office, to speak out more; he agreed to let them help hone his message.

The profile took a more personal and positive turn after that:

In interviews, White House officials uniformly conveyed support, even sympathy, for Mr. Holder. “He’s in a very tough spot,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, who added that he would help Mr. Holder with a communications strategy only after the legal decisions had been made. “All he wants to do is bring these people to justice.”

There's more over at TimesWatch. Make the site one of your Internet favorites. It's now located at www.mrc.org/timeswatch.


New York Times Charlie Savage Jodi Kantor Eric Holder
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