The AP Style Guide on Defending Barack Obama

The Associated Press editors tasked in-house "writer" Phillip Elliott to write an article that dispels the "rumors and outright lies" concerning Barack Obama and the perception that Mr. Obama's support of Israel is questionable. The product of that task is what you'd expect from any number of left leaning story tellers in the mainstream media who write about Obama as opposed to journalists, reporters and political observers that actually take the time to research, study and honestly discuss that which they have found.

Elliott took no time setting up the Obama defense from the first sentence, stating that "Barack Obama has a solid Senate record in support of Israel". The rest of the article is essentially an exercise in repetition; repackaging the most often repeated excuses in defense of a man that inexplicably spent 20 years in a church listening to the controversial and dogmatic sermons of his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright honored noted Jew hater Louis Farrakhan and traveled with the Nation of Islam leader to visit Libya's Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. You know Qadhafi, he's the megalomaniacal leader of Libya that instituted Sharia Law and expelled most all the Jews from his country while simultaneously destroying all their cemeteries. A real humanitarian and man of the people, IN HELL!

So perhaps the Jewish community has a reason to question Barack Obama on this issue considering that his teacher of faith is so aligned. But not if his supporters in the press have it their way. They have a casual way of making excuses for Mr. Obama, taking him at his word; not tasking him for who he associates with as they would others, but explaining away questionable relationships by asking a fleeting question and then convulsively nodding in unison as they gleefully accept fleeting answers.

For every criticism that anyone dare have about Barack Obama there is a cadre of willing "writers" and talking heads in the mainstream media that are waiting to provide a defense and make excuses. The one thing they are not doing though is answering the questions of his critics. Instead they play a shell game of avoid the answer. Which got me to thinking. I see a pattern emerging here and have decided to write it up as I would imagine it would be written up as a guide in AP Journalism 101.

The following is my 4 step AP Style Guide on Defending Barack Obama. For my examples I use excerpts from Associated Press writer Phillip Elliott in his recent article, Obama Tries to Allay Jewish Concerns. All comments surrounded by parenthesis in bold are mine for demonstration purposes.

Step 1. - Provide the Setup

The first step in creating a defense of Barack Obama is to provide a seemingly objective setup. The goal here is to state the criticisms of his record in a way that also defends his integrity and portrays Mr. Obama as a victim if at all possible.


CLEVELAND (AP) -- Barack Obama has a solid Senate record in support of Israel. (praise)

He sings the praises, too, of Jewish civil rights workers who fought for blacks' rights in the U.S. And he says he wants to patch up "a historically powerful bond between the African-American and Jewish communities." (praise)

Yet there is unease among some Jewish voters about the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential contender. (concern that needs to be addressed)

Why? (lead readers into believing that they will get an answer)

Part of it is a division between blacks and Jews that's been growing for years, a split that Obama has challenged fellow blacks to confront. (action item in defense of cause)

Another element is the praise Obama has received from Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, whose disparaging comments about Judaism are toxic to many voters. Obama's own pastor has a history of supporting Palestinian causes. (concern that needs to be addressed)

And there are questions about Obama advisers who some U.S. Jews see as less than ardent advocates of Israel. (concern that needs to be addressed)

Finally, there are rumors and outright lies about the candidate that have gained an audience through repetition in e-mails and on Web sites. (defense, victimization, rumor and innuendo)

Step 2. - Provide the Defense

This step is quite simple. Provide a few fleeting action items, particularly recent events, that the candidate has done on behalf of the cause. Make sure to mix in a couple of statements from experts that are supportive of Barack Obama. Extra style points can be achieved if you take a swipe at conservatives, better yet if that swipe contains statements about rumor and innuendo. Use words and events that evoke emotion such as "lie" and "outrage".


On the day of the Mississippi primary this week, Obama took time to call Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to express condolences over the deadly terrorist attack on a rabbinical seminary in Jerusalem. He also reaffirmed his support for Israel's right to defend itself and for its commitment to negotiations with Palestinians and underscored the need to stop Iran from supporting terrorism or getting nuclear weapons. (recent action item in defense of cause)

The effort by the candidate and his advisers to calm disquiet among Jewish voters began more than a year ago. (action item in defense of cause)

"The Jewish community cannot be taken for granted," said Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida, one of Obama's chief surrogates before Jewish audiences. Wexler sent an e-mail last March to supporters urging them not to be swayed by rumors, a message he repeated during a recent forum in Cleveland. (expert defense, mention of rumor and innuendo)

Obama used a speech in January at Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta to chastise blacks for latent anti-Semitism. And during a recent debate, Obama alluded to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, one black and two Jewish civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964 as they worked together on a campaign to register black voters. (action item in defense of cause, association by mention of famous civil rights figures)

"You know, I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole host of Jewish-Americans who supported the civil rights movement and helped to ensure that justice was served in the South," Obama said. "And that coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task in this process is making sure that those lines of communication and understanding are reopened." (action item in defense of cause, civil rights, superfluous praise)

Still, there remains some "nervousness over Senator Obama" among Jewish voters, said Rabbi Joshua Skoff, who attended a private meeting with Obama in Cleveland last month. "The rumors still have some legs." (community outreach, concern that needs to be addressed, mention of rumor and innuendo)

Step 3. - Restate the Problem as Setup for Further Defense

This step is essentially a repeat of step 1. Do this in particular if the record of accomplishment is thin as it stretches the defense out. Appear objective. Avoid criticism unless it can be surrounded by offsetting praise or excused away.


Still, there remains some "nervousness over Senator Obama" among Jewish voters, said Rabbi Joshua Skoff, who attended a private meeting with Obama in Cleveland last month. "The rumors still have some legs." (concern that needs to be addressed,community outreach, mention of rumor and innuendo)

At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, President Howard Friedman said Obama's Senate record on Israel has given his critics no reason to doubt him. (expert defense)

But that record is thin. Just a little over three years ago, Obama was a state legislator in Illinois. (excuse, note how this sentence contradicts the first sentence of the article)

"Right now, Obama's big problem with the Jewish community is similar to his problem with other communities: He's just not clearly defined among any voter groups," said Kenneth Wald, director of Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida-Gainesville. "The fact he has a name that sounds Muslim and has a Muslim father underlines questions about what we do and what we do not know about him." (concern that needs to be addressed)

Step 4. - Provide the Defense

This is a repeat of step 2. By now you should be getting into a rhythm providing excuses and defenses of all criticisms and concerns. Make sure to get some quotes and keep up the efforts to cast criticisms in the light of rumor and innuendo. Extra style points can be achieved if you take a swipe at conservatives, better yet if that swipe contains statements about rumor and innuendo. Use words and events that evoke emotion such as "lie" and "outrage".


Some critics on the Internet have gone far beyond raising questions. (defense and set up)

Contrary to some e-mails, Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim. He took his oath of office on the family Bible, not a Quran. (defense, dispel rumor)

"There has been a concerted effort, largely out of the conservative Web sites and anonymous e-mails," says Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which set up a Stop The Smears Web site to correct the rumors. (swipe against conservatives even though they have nothing to do with topic, mention of rumor and innuendo, drive people to advocacy site)

"I don't think it moves tons and tons of votes, but at the fringes, if left unchecked, it could move a few," he said. (critics are now portrayed as fringe)

In the private meeting in Cleveland with 100 Jewish leaders last month, Obama talked about his 2005 trip to Israel, his views on a Palestinian state and regional Middle East security. He was quickly questioned about his own pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and an award his church magazine gave last year that said Farrakhan "truly epitomized greatness." (concern that needs to be addressed, action item in defense of cause)

Farrakhan is intolerable to Jewish voters because of a history of anti-Semitic remarks, like calling Judaism a "gutter religion." (statement of fact not attributed to Barack Obama)

Step 4. - Wrap it Up

This is the closer. Provide Barack Obama a platform from which to present his defense. Make sure you get a couple of key quotes. Leave the reader with a sense of calm that dispels all concerns and satisfies those who need an excuse to look past any questions that challenge Barack Obama.


Obama, who has rejected support from Farrakhan, assured voters his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago does not endorse such messages. (defense, meaningless words and catch phrases that run counter to facts, tie up loose ends on criticisms for denouncing Farrakhan as opposed to rejecting him*)

"I have never heard an anti-Semitic (remark) made inside of our church. I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on the part of the pastor," Obama said in a transcript of his remarks released later. "He (Wright) is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with. And I suspect there are some of the people in this room who have heard relatives say some things that they don't agree with - including, on occasion, directed at African-Americans." (defense, meaningless words and catch phrases that run counter to facts, excuse, distance Obama from subject of concern)

Obama took the title of his 2006 book "The Audacity of Hope" from a Wright sermon. But last year, he asked Wright not to offer a prayer at his campaign's kickoff in Springfield, Ill. (excuse, distance Obama from subject of concern)

The questioners in Cleveland also raised Obama's use of foreign policy advisers the doubters say are foes of Israel, including former President Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. (concern that needs to be addressed)

Obama replied that Brzezinski is an informal, not a key, adviser, and "I do not share his views with respect to Israel." (excuse, distance Obama from subject of concern)

He said he has other foreign policy advisers from the Clinton administration who share his belief that Israel has to remain a Jewish state with special ties to the U.S. and that the Palestinians have been irresponsible. And he said critics' e-mails never mention Lester Crown, a member of his national finance committee who is "considered about as hawkish and tough when it comes to Israel as anybody in the country." (action item in defense of cause, use of fundraiser turned advisor)

"This is where I get to be honest, and I hope I'm not out of school here," Obama told Jewish leaders at the private meeting. "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering, pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel." (restate honesty, pro-Likud substitute as veiled reference to right wing)

The formula is pretty simple and there are variations to be sure. In the end make sure you advocate for Barack Obama while appearing objective.

* Closing the loop technique. Used to tie up loose end. In this example Barack Obama was quietly back peddling on a previous stance where he denounced Louis Farrakhan in the Russert debate with Hillary Clinton. Obama's parsing of words, using "denounce" instead of "reject" was capitalized on by Hillary Clinton and has caused great concern in the Jewish community as noted in the LA Times.

That is my take on the unwritten but seemingly understood formula used by many writers in the mainstream media that seek to defend Barack Obama rather than report on him.

We have seen this kind of thinly veiled activism being exercised by the press for quite some time. There is a double standard being applied to Barack Obama. The contrasts are astounding. Many of those defending him from the "guilt by association" of Rev. Jeremiah Wright are the same crowd that attacked John McCain when radio talk show host Bill Cunningham dared to use the full name of Barack Hussein Obama. Likewise Hillary Clinton has been sliced by the knife of intolerance as she distanced herself from Geraldine Ferraro's statements concerning Barack Obama's meteoric rise to power. The same goes for select religions. The mainstream media worked overtime discussing the Mormonism of Mitt Romney yet we are essentially being told that we shouldn't discuss the church of Barack Obama. It goes on an on, defense after defense, excuse after excuse.

The appalling aspect of this whole exercise is that we are talking about media influence and the duty to inform. I have fun with these examples by sarcasm but presidential campaigns are serious events. The people of this nation deserve more.

Terry Trippany is the editor and publisher of

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