In an article appearing in The Politico's March 27 print edition, Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has “shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips,” characterized Obama's alleged inconsistencies as “trivial,” and wrote that “the senator's rhetorical miscues have been more curiosities than obvious political blunders.” Nonetheless, Allen stretched these alleged “trivial” inconsistencies into a 1,200-word article headlined, “Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama,” which appeared on the front page of the print edition. The Drudge Report flagged the article by posting its headline verbatim approximately one hour before The Politico posted the article on its website on the evening of March 26, according to Google News. Additionally, one of the so-called “curiosities” that Allen purported to expose were “strange echoes” of 2003 campaign speeches by former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) in Obama's current campaign speeches. However, these “strange echoes” appear to be little more than oft-used rhetorical devices that are not unique to any presidential candidate.
In the article, Allen conceded that the “rookie mistakes” he highlighted were in fact “trivial” and “small”:
While trivial, the remark is the sort of throwaway line that can trip up a candidate in the heat of a national campaign, and it shows the challenge the young senator will face in coming days as his words are dissected and scrutinized with fresh intensity.
Obama's gift with language -- his powerful speaking style and the graceful prose and compelling story of his best-selling memoir -- has been an engine of his dramatic, high-velocity rise in presidential politics. But he has also shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips that serve as reminders that he is still a newcomer to national politics.
For the first time, Obama is on a stage where small mistakes can have disproportionately large consequences. The Republican National Committee, working in league with Bush operatives, exploited similar blunders -- sometimes misleadingly -- to portray the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John F. Kerry, as inconsistent or hypocritical in ways that savaged both men's reputations.
The Drudge Report, according to the website's archives, posted an item at 5:28 p.m. EST (21:38 GMT) reading: “Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama... Developing...” The item remained on The Drudge Report without a link until 6:59 p.m. ET (22:59 GMT). The version of the article currently on Politico.com has a dateline reading March 27, and no earlier versions of the story could be located. However, according to a screen capture of Google News, the article was posted on Politico.com at least 17 hours before 12:37 p.m. on March 27 -- meaning the article was posted as early as 6:37 p.m. (which is 18 hours before) on March 26. Philadelphia Daily News senior writer Will Bunch also raised the issue of the relative timing of Drudge's and Politico's posts, writing on his Attytood weblog that Allen's article was “highlighted on the Drudge Report no later than 18 minutes after it was filed by Allen (how does he do it!).”
Blogger Glenn Greenwald also addressed Allen's article on March 27, calling it “a petty, trite hit piece on Barack Obama,” and writing: “Central to the business and political plan of The Politico is, quite transparently, overt courting of Matt Drudge and active cooperation with him.” As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Politico editor-in-chief John Harris and former ABC political director Mark Halperin authored The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 (Random House, October 2006), which includes a chapter titled, “How Matt Drudge Rules Our World.” According to Harris and Halperin, Drudge “can influence the news like Walter Cronkite did,” and "[i]f Drudge has a siren up, people know it's something they have to look at."
In his article, Allen wrote: “So far, the senator's rhetorical miscues have been more curiosities than obvious political blunders. For instance, some of Obama's campaign rhetoric has turned out to have strange echoes of lines that John Edwards used in his 2004 campaign.” Later in the article, Allen presented his evidence of the alleged “strange echoes” in Obama's and Edwards' rhetoric:
Obama's more recent words are undergoing similar study, including lines that parallel rhetoric Edwards used in 2004. In some cases, it is standard political white noise like creating “a new kind of politics” -- a signature phrase of Obama's that Edwards used three years ago.
In the candidates' announcement speeches, the parallel was even more striking. “I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington,” Obama said as he launched his campaign last month, “but I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.” That carries a distinct echo of a line in Edwards' announcement speech in 2003: “I haven't spent most of my life in politics, which most of you know, but I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington.”
These “echoes,” however, may not be as “strange” as Allen claims. The rhetorical theme of a political “outsider” promising to “change Washington” is hardly unique to Obama and Edwards -- it has been used by Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for many years and is more akin to the “standard political white noise” Allen dismissed. For example, in his speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention, then-candidate George W. Bush said:
That outlook is typical of many in Washington, always seeing the tunnel at the end of the light.
But I come from a different place and it has made me a different leader. In Midland, Texas, where I grew up, the town motto was, “The sky's the limit,” and we believed it. There was a restless energy, a basic conviction that with hard work, anybody could succeed and everybody deserved a chance.
That background may lack the polish of Washington. Then again, I don't have a lot of things that come with Washington. I don't have enemies to fight. I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect.
In his speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, then-candidate Bill Clinton said:
How do I know we can come together and make change happen? Because I have seen it in my own state. In Arkansas, we are working together, and we are making progress. No, there's no Arkansas Miracle, but there are a lot of miraculous people. (Applause) And because of them, our schools are better, our wages are higher, our factories are busier, our water is cleaner and our budget is balanced. We're moving ahead. (Applause)
I wish I could say the same thing about America under the incumbent President. He took the richest country in the world and brought it down. (Applause)
We took on of the poorest states in America and lifted it up. (Applause)
And so I say to all of those, in this campaign season who would criticize Arkansas, come on down. Especially if you're from Washington, come on down.
As Media Matters documented, Allen has baselessly claimed that one of Obama's “big vulnerabilities” in the 2008 presidential race is “his frank liberalism in a time when the party needs centrist voters.” As evidence of Obama's “frank liberalism,” Allen cited his support for “civil unions for gay people” but ignored polling indicating that the majority of Americans, as well as the majority of self-identified “independents,” favor same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions.