Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2012 Two scandals that weren’t

By Charles Peters

Two recent articles in the New York Times have made me wonder which Timeseditors were asleep the day they were published. One, by Motoko Rich, ran as the lead article on the front page with the headline “‘No Child’ Law Whittled Down by the White House—Waivers for 26 States.” The headline suggests, as does a considerable part of the article, that there may be something scandalous going on. It’s not until the eleventh paragraph, which doesn’t appear until the jump page, that the reader is given any idea that the administration is granting the waivers to provide flexibility and persuade states to adopt its Race to the Top program—though the words “Race to the Top” never appear in the article, and the program is only briefly explained in two of its twenty-nine paragraphs. Ironically, a subsequent lead editorial in the Times, instead of questioning Race to the Top, praised it for providing incentives for reform that are “long overdue.

The other piece was headlined “Obama Biography Brings New Scrutiny to President’s Own Memoir.” Its author, Michael Shear, explains that “there are new questions about how closely the president’s telling of his life hews to reality.” But we don’t encounter the first example of this departure from reality until the sixteenth paragraph of the article, and what a shocker it is: Obama said his step-grandfather was killed “while fighting Dutch troops in Indonesia,” when in fact he “died trying to hang drapes.” Obama has talked a lot about his real grandparents, but he has never made a big thing out of the story of his step-grandfather, which easily could have been family myth handed down to him. The other illustrations offered by Shear struck me as equally trivial: Obama combined the stories of two early romances, and he smoked more pot in high school than his own book had implied.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.