NYT's Jodi Kantor 'Labored and Labored' to Make Her Jeremiah Wright Reporting Fair (to Obama)

January 12th, 2012 5:13 PM

On Wednesday afternoon, New York Times political reporter Jodi Kantor hosted a live Facebook discussion on her new book on the Obamas and especially First Lady Michelle Obama. If this Facebook session is any indication, the book matches Kantor’s previous promotional coverage of the First Couple. On Facebook Kantor describes the First Lady as someone “with important ideas of her own about opportunity, access, equality, etc,” who “has redefined the role of first lady for successors...she's really raised the bar for ambitious initiatives.”

Revealingly, when asked about her latest scoops being allegedly used by Fox News and the Drudge Report as a “racial attack against the Obamas,” Kantor emphasized to her predominantly liberal audience how she broke the news about Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s ministry (in a bland story), and wrote a follow up “which I labored and labored over to make fair.” And it was “fair,” at least from the perspective of an Obama supporter.

Some of Kantor’s Facebook responses to questions:

... I feel very strongly about taking Michelle Obama seriously as a journalistic subject. There's still some condescension towards first ladies out there: Let's Move, her childhood obesity initiative, is sometimes referred to as a "pet project." I try to make my writing the opposite. I see her as a groundbreaking figure, a relative newcomer to politics who has had an unprecedented crash course, and someone with important ideas of her own about opportunity, access, equality, etc.

....Al Southers, that's a great question! He asked how Mrs. Obama has redefined the role of first lady for successors. One answer is that she's really raised the bar for ambitious initiatives. When she launched Let's Move (the childhood obesity initiative), her advisors asked her how ambitious she wanted to be. After all, what was the goal-- childhood obesity has been a nearly inextricable problem in this country, and shouldn't she pick something safe, achievable? She said, we're going to be really ambitious, we're going to try to wipe out this problem. I believe that says a lot about her. This first lady does not want to make a small contribution; she wants to shift the needle in a big way. How far she'll get in really reducing the problem, I don't know -- it's been a public health challenge that no one has been able to solve so far.

....Allesia Daniels asked: "How do you feel about Foxnews and Drudge using your book as a racial attack against the Obamas?" Allesia, I am so glad you asked this, because it's something I've struggled with since I became a political reporter. I didn't see the reports you're talking about, but everyone who reports on politics for the NYT has seen their work used in a way that it wasn't intended. Back in 2007, I broke the initial news of tension between Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and then I wrote this story, which I labored and labored over to make fair: You can imagine the way my reporting was portrayed in other outlets. But there's only one solution here, which is to do the best, clearest, fairest work possible.

Indeed, Kantor worked very hard to make it “fair,” at least from the perspective of the Obama campaign. As Bill McGowan writes on page 67 in “Gray Lady Down,” his 2010 book on the Times:

Kantor referred to Wright’s “assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government,” but left out the “God damn America,” and instead of reporting that Wright believed and preached that the U.S. government invented AIDS as a tool of racial euthanasia, she merely said that “Like conservative Christians, he speaks of AIDS as a moral crisis.” Of the controversial 9/11 remarks, she simply wrote that “On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies.”