WashPost 2007-08 Coverage of Obama's Punahou School Years? Mostly Gooey Basketball Patter

As The Washington Post publishes its “harrowing” story of Mitt Romney’s bullying of other children in 1965, conservatives might ask: How did the Post cover Barack Obama’s education at Punahou School in Honolulu in the last election cycle? Did they track down horror stories from high school detractors or classmates who belong to the Other Party?

As might be expected, a Nexis search of “Obama” and “Punahou” brings out mostly laudatory references to his high school basketball career. The seven stories in the sample have no critics of young Obama, but plenty of oozing sympathy for his fatherless plight. Here are the headlines, to give you a flavor:

1. “A Rusty Toyota, a Mean Jump Shot, Good Ears” (Outlook section collection of positive quotes from friends and classmates, February 11, 2007)

2. “The Ghost of a Father” (December 14, 2007)

(same day, December 14, 2007)

4. “For Obama, the Sport Is Much More Than a Game” (Sports, April 16, 2008)

5. “Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible.” (August 24, 2008)
6. “Obama Visits Grandma Who Was His 'Rock'; Candidate Hopes She Will See Election Day” (October 25, 2008)

7. “What School Sports Taught These Political Contenders” (Sports, October 30, 2008)

That last story before the election by Preston Williams made sure to throw in some negativity toward McCain:

Obama was sometimes called "Barry Obomber," even though the left-handed small forward was known more for his long arms and quick first step on slashes to the basket than for his shooting touch. He favored a street-ball style; Coach Chris McLachlin preached fundamentals.

McCain, a self-described rabble-rouser at Episcopal, at the time an all-male boarding school, was one of the smaller boys on campus -- he wrestled in the 127-pound class as a senior. But he was also one of the feistiest, earning such nicknames as "McNasty" and "The Punk."

That picks up on a 2008 anti-McCain trope that he was nasty at Episcopal High School and had a "volcanic temper" that was unpresidential.

The August 24 story -- an almost 10,000-word Sunday elegy by Post reporter and author David Maraniss -- contained this gooey passage:

Hawaii involves the struggles of a teenage hapa [mixed-race person] at Punahou School who wanted nothing more than to be a professional basketball player. It is about his extraordinary mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, deeply loving if frequently absent. While politicians burnish their histories by laying claim to early years of community work and lives of public service, she was the real deal, devoting her career, unsung and underpaid, to helping poor women make their way in the modern world.

Some politicians “burnish their histories,” and some also have Washington Post reporters who shamelessly do it for them.

Very deep in the story, near the very end, Maraniss addressed the drug use, and oddly used Obama pals to underline Obama wasn’t exaggerating how many drugs he used in his memoir:

And they smoked dope. Obama's drug use is right there in the memoir, with no attempt to make him look better than he was. He acknowledged smoking marijuana and using cocaine but said he stopped short of heroin. Some have suggested that he exaggerated his drug use in the book to hype the idea that he was on the brink of becoming a junkie; dysfunction and dissolution always sell in memoirs.

But his friends quickly dismissed that notion. "I wouldn't call it an exaggeration," Greg Ramos said. Keith Peterson said: "Did I ever party with Barack? Yes, I did. Do I remember specifically? If I did, then I didn't party with him. Part of the nature of getting high is you don't remember it 30 minutes later. Punahou was a wealthy school with a lot of kids with disposable income. The drinking age in Hawaii then was 18, so a lot of seniors could buy it legally, which means the parent dynamic was not big. And the other partying materials were prevalent, being in Hawaii. There was a lot of partying that went on. And Barack has been very open about that. Coming from Hawaii, that would have been so easy to expose. If he hadn't written about it, it would have been a disaster."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis