Bob Johnson’s “free ride”

What would you ask the Clinton surrogate about his Obama remarks? The Washington Post didn't.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, War Room,

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a reporter for the Washington Post. Now imagine that you’ve just scored an interview with Bob Johnson, the BET founder and Hillary Clinton surrogate who Sunday contrasted the Clintons’ early commitment to civil rights with a coded and snarky reference to Barack Obama’s admissions of past drug use — and then tried to say that he was just talking about Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago.

Would you press Johnson hard on his improbable explanation? Would you ask him what’s so terrible about community organizing? Would you ask him why, instead of saying, “Obama was working as a community organizer,” he said Obama was “doing something in the neighborhood, that I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book”? Would you ask him whether anyone in the Clinton campaign knew that he was going to raise the issue of Obama’s past drug use? Whether anyone in the Clinton campaign encouraged him to do so? Whether anyone in the Clinton campaign has suggested that he shouldn’t have done so?

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Well, you might. But if the story he wrote for this morning’s Post is any indication, reporter Frank Ahrens did not. The headline over the piece says: “BET Founder Johnson Defends His Recent Criticisms of Obama.” About 700 words follow, and here’s the sum total of them that address the drug use issue:

“Johnson reiterated that he was referring to Obama’s earlier career as a community organizer when he said during an appearance on behalf of Clinton on Sunday in Columbia, S.C., that the senator from Illinois needs to explain his past.”

There’s no mention of the words Johnson actually said Sunday. There’s no back-and-forth about the entirely improbable explanation he gave for them later. And, incredibly, there’s not even any reference to the notion that Johnson was referring to Obama’s admissions of drug use — a subject that the Clinton campaign claims its candidate has declared off limits.

What there is, ironically: Complaints from Johnson that nobody knows how to campaign against Obama because he’s the “perfect candidate” with “absolutely no blemishes.”

Except, of course, whatever it was Obama “doing” in the neighborhood.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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