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Obama's drug use is fair game to the media

Adubato: The media shouldn't be unfair to candidates by singling them out for their dirty pasts. But if the media harping on public figures, it needs to at least be unfair to all of them equally.
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A few days ago, the New York Times ran a front page story entitled “Friends Say Drugs Played Only Bit Part for Obama.”  Times reporter Serge Kovaleski examined Sen. Barack Obama’s claims from his 1995 memoir about him indulging in marijuana, alcohol and occasionally cocaine while he was in high school and college and the fact that Obama was later concerned that he might turn into a “pothead” or a “junkie.”

In his memoir, “Dreams from my Father,” Obama said, “That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man ... Except the highs hadn’t been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was ... I got high for just the opposite effect, something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind.”

Obviously, the fact that Barack Obama has been so public about his drug use when he was younger has the potential to be a much larger campaign issue if he becomes the Democratic nominee. The fact that Obama has talked so candidly about his drug use to high school students makes it potentially a more compelling and relevant issue.  Yet, the question remains, was it fair for the New York Times to put a story on the front page, basically looking to corroborate the accuracy of Obama’s description of his own drug use, both in high school and later at Occidental College?

Because Obama has talked so publicly about it, it is it fair game. Interestingly, what the New York Times found was that most of the people who knew Obama back then say they didn’t remember him being all that engaged in drug or alcohol use.

But here’s the catch. On some level, the New York Times and other media organizations are feeling significant pressure to start putting some real heat on Obama, a presidential candidate who in many ways comes straight out of central casting. He not only is the first African-American who has a serious shot at winning the White House — he is also a young, extremely telegenic, dynamic speaker and a heck of a good story.

We in the media are playing catch-up because we’ve been bashing Sen. Hillary Clinton for so long. We have done a number on virtually every presidential candidate by exploring not just their public records, but their private lives. We’ve examined candidates’ siblings, spouses, children and distant relatives.  We have gone so far out of bounds and so far over the line with so many presidential candidates that it is fascinating that Obama has escaped such scrutiny to date. 

Fair to all, unfair to all
This argument is going to sound odd on many levels; however, just think about it before you knock it down. Even though the New York Times' attempt to challenge what was potentially hyperbole of Obama's use is unfair, what’s important is that the media at least be unfair to all candidates on a consistent basis.

While debating this topic on "Live with Dan Abrams,"  Abrams argued it was a ridiculous story that had absolutely no place on the New York Times front page once the Times realized that they didn’t have very much material.  His point is well-taken, except that media leads with unfair and ridiculous stories involving presidential candidates all the time. My point is that the only way to treat Obama is in the same, unfair fashion to demonstrate the media’s fairness and neutrality. Further, it is important that he get knocked around and dirtied with mud in order to find out how he handles things when he is not being idolized or adored by the media.

Of course I would rather not see such a story on the front page of the Times.  Further, the story will get repeated over and over again by the Republicans if Obama becomes the nominee. There's no acceptable reason for the media to do a double standard; as long as Obama gets the same positive and negative treatment in news stories, the media is doing its job.

Personally, I would rather that we focus more on candidates’ policy positions and their voting records in public life.  But that’s just not the norm. We love the salacious. We love playing “gotcha.” We love looking into candidates’ private lives well before they ever entered the public arena. If the New York Times or anyone else in the media didn’t do that with Obama, the situation would be a lot worse than it already is at the moment.

Write to Steve Adubato at