NYT's Front Page Gushes on Eric Holder, 'Leaning Forward' on Race in Ferguson Case; Hits Too-Cool Obama From Left

August 20th, 2014 10:01 PM

More pampering of Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder on the front page of the New York Times: Wednesday's edition featured "Shared Vision, Varying Styles," yet another defense of Holder (and criticism of Obama from the left) in a "news analysis" in the paper's off-lead slot by White House reporter Peter Baker, with Matt Apuzzo.

Strangely for a story on racial matters under Obama, the story made no mention of Obama's infamous judgment that Boston police had "acted stupidly" after a racially fraught incident in July 2009 involving the arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Also nothing about Holder playing the race card by blaming opposition to the administration's policies on "racial animus."

The Times has long pampered Holder. Legal reporter Charlie Savage notoriously led cheers in a front-page interview in December 2011, letting Holder throw down the race card against his political critics while downplaying the Justice Department's Fast and Furious "gun-walking" scandal, which led to the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, a program about which Holder provided false information to Congress.

From Wednesday's front-page piece:

The two men in open-collar shirts sat facing each other, papers and a BlackBerry strewn on a coffee table, sober looks on both their faces. One leaned forward, gesturing with his left hand, clearly doing the talking. The other sat back in his chair, two fingers pressed to his temple as he listened intently.

When violence erupted last week after a police shooting in Missouri, President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. huddled on Martha’s Vineyard where both were on vacation. But as the most powerful African-Americans in the nation confront its enduring racial divide, they come at it from fundamentally different backgrounds and points of view.

Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.

Baker brought in an unlabeled left-wing professor to bash Obama's supposed racial moderation and praise Holder's emotionalism, as if that's an admirable quality for an Attorney General sworn to uphold the law.

The differences between the two men have drawn criticism since the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, as some African-Americans praise Mr. Holder for his outspokenness and lament or even denounce Mr. Obama for his caution. Michael Eric Dyson, a prominent author and Georgetown University professor, called the president’s public statement on Monday a “stunning epic failure” that seemed to blame black men rather than armed police.

“This is a community aflame with a passion to know the truth, and Obama is treating it dispassionately and with distance,” he said. “There is no blood flowing through the veins with empathy.”

On the other hand, Mr. Dyson said: “Eric feels it in his gut. It rises to his brain. It’s expressed on his tongue.” Mr. Holder, he added, is “an up and down race man who understands the moral consequences of the law on the lives of black people.”


If Mr. Obama gave the impression of wanting to avoid talking about race early in his presidency, Mr. Holder was more direct, such as when the new attorney general declared the United States a “nation of cowards” for not addressing race.

(Not mentioned was that Holder was rebuked by Obama himself for the statement, as the Times itself reported in another supportive front-page article from 2010, which also praised Holder's "genial temperament," revealing how he and Obama "share Ivy League degrees, low-key natures and a love of long, intricate legal discussions.")

For Mr. Holder, it was personal. His future sister-in-law was one of two black students who enrolled in the University of Alabama with the protection of the National Guard, and Mr. Holder recalled his father telling him how to act if he was wrongly stopped by the police. “I thought of my father’s words years later when, as a college student, I was pulled over twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and my car was searched, even though I was sure I hadn’t been speeding,” he recalled in a speech in April.

“I thought of them again sometime after that,” he added, “when a police officer stopped and questioned me in Washington while I was running to catch a movie, even though I happened to be a federal prosecutor at the time.”


Frustrated at times during the first term, Mr. Holder has been empowered in the second to take on more longstanding issues of disparity involving sentencing, racial profiling and voting rights.

And throughout, he has focused on cracking down on police departments that violate civil rights, opening 20 such investigations, more than twice as many in the previous five years. He and aides have discussed opening a similar, broader civil rights investigation into Ferguson’s practices, according to officials.


Mr. Holder has been tracking the events in Ferguson since he read the first reports a few hours after Mr. Brown’s shooting. He dashed off an email to aides asking to be briefed by morning and eventually grew angry that, over his objection, the local authorities released surveillance video showing an apparent robbery by Mr. Brown.

Why would Holder (or journalists) oppose facts coming out about a case he's so personally involved in?

The Times let Holder (and his boss) have it both ways, appealing to racial grievances in Ferguson while also being staunch supporters of the police:

Mr. Holder has repeatedly weighed in on the conduct of the police in Ferguson. But his brother is a retired police lieutenant, and when Mr. Holder read a draft news release, he told aides to change language that he thought was too critical of police.

“He is a friend of law enforcement,” said Reid H. Weingarten, a lawyer and friend noting that Mr. Holder does not see that in conflict with supporting civil rights. “It’s a complicated issue. Both of these things can coexist.”