NYT's Patrick Healy is just not up to the task

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Of analyzing, in any kind of serious way, a White House campaign for The New York Times. He's just not. That became glaringly obvious from his almost uniformly awful, and trivial, coverage of Hillary Clinton during the primary season.

Now he's moved over to covering Obama and his work is just as bad. Healy's car-wreck effort today in the Times affirms that depressing fact.

Headlined, "Obama Wraps His Hopes Inside Economic Anxiety," the shaky premise is that Obama has been running on the message of hope but now, thanks to the economic meltdown, all the Wall Street news is depressing so there's a contradiction there.

Healy thinks is hugely important or jarring or significant or something that on the campaign trail the hope candidate acknowledges the country if facing a crisis and uses words like "anxiety," and "worse" and "crisis." So gloomy!

At the same campaign event, Healy reported, Obama "veered sharply" toward a more optimistic theme, stressing "there are better days ahead." Confused, Healy announced that represented a "disconnect," because the candidate had just claimed the country was facing a crisis.

Are you following this? Basically, Obama told supporters things are bad now and if you vote for him he'll make things better. That's what Healy thought was newsworthy about the candidate's appeal.

The reporter also stressed that Obama "continues to promise that everything will get better once he is president, but does not explain how his programs and governing philosophy will adjust to new economic realities." But has Obama's opponent explained how his programs would adjust to the new economic realities? Not that we've seen, which suggest Healy's entire premise--Obama talks hope and won't detail pain--is hollow.

In the end, the article itself is not especially damaging to Obama mostly because it makes no sense. (Healy appears to be a graduate from the Jeff Gerth school of writing.) And in that regard it's just frustrating to watch the Times publish dreadful articles like this.

And oh yeah, the opening and the closing of Healy's article are also senseless.

The opening [emphasis added]:

When Senator Barack Obama began speaking about the economy on Wednesday, it sounded, at first, as if ghastly news was coming. Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, told thousands of people at a rally here that America was "at a moment of great uncertainty."

What person at the campaign rally, aside from Healy, thought that when Obama began talking about the economic crisis he was unveiling "ghastly news"? Doesn't everyone in America already know about the meltdown? Yes. So it made no sense to suggest "ghastly news was coming" when Obama referenced current events.

The closing (quoting Obama):

"We will all need to sacrifice. We will need to work a little harder," he said. "We will need to work a little smarter; parents will need to turn off their TV sets and make sure their children are doing their homework." Some in the grandstand applauded. Others laughed. It was hard to tell which sentiment Mr. Obama was looking for.

To analyze Obama's speech, Healy turned to "some [unnamed people] in the grandstand" and found that some applauded and some "laughed." But why did they laugh? It made no sense, but that's all we know because Healy didn't interview any of the laughers. But because it made no sense that people would laugh, Healy's conclusion that Obama was "looking for" people to laugh at his mention of TV and homework was also nonsensical. And that's how the article mercifully ended.

The New York Times has a long, proud tradition of highlighting campaign reporters who are able to size up elections and write with grace and insight about unfolding events and help make the campaign more sensible for readers.

Patrick Healy pretty much does the opposite.

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