Jay Rosen asked about three vetting-the-candidate stories that went awry at the New York Times: "Obama's drug use. Hillary's marriage. McCain's lobbyist. The New York Times made weird decisions in all three. What gives?"
I think the problem started at the root why these stories received focus to begin with.
All three "tough-on-the-candidates" pieces, driven by the New York Times' own choices and research rather than breaking events, have in common a great lack. Each goes out of its way to turn something arguably tangential to being president into a character issue.
Each avoids tackling issues that greatly affect people – ending the war, healthcare for all, a fairer economy, saving the environment – well-worn slogans that become threatening to the interests of people on the fortunate side of injustice if investigated seriously.
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.
The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Question the polling methodologies, perhaps, but the sentiment is there, and these percentages can only have grown more weighty in the past two years, despite patchy media coverage. Courage isn't an issue when there is no will at all. The New York Times doesn't represent us.
But it does take some fancy footwork to avoid these issues, footwork that's bound to look a little awkward sooner or later.