When John McCain first ran for Congress in 1982, a fund raiser was held for him at
the home of a prominent Phoenix businessman. As a young man, the businessman took
part in the bombing of several abortion clinics. One of the bombings caused several
deaths. Despite this, the businessman has never expressed remorse for the criminal
acts of his youth. Sen. McCain and the businessman have remained friendly. Until a
few years ago, they served together on the board of a local charity.
You haven't heard about this relationship before because I just made it up. But if
it were true, I suspect most journalists would find it newsworthy. Very newsworthy.
But not when the shoe is on the other foot. The two most unpopular people in
journalism this week are Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC, the
moderators of last week's debate between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Theirs was "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major
presidential debate in years," said Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher magazine.
"Shoddy and despicable," said Washington Post media critic Tom Shales.
It was "something akin to a federal crime," said Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker.
"I am still angry at what I just witnessed, so angry that it's hard even to type
accurately because my hands are shaking," said Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily
Mr. Bunch and the others are furious with their ABC colleagues because they asked
Sen. Obama about the remarks he'd made at a San Francisco fund-raiser demeaning
rural Pennsylvanians, and about his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and
The questions were a distraction from the "real issues," the journalists said.
"At a time of foreign wars, economic collapse and environmental peril, the
cringe-worthy first half of the debate focused on such crucial matters as Sen.
Obama's comments about rural bitterness, his former pastor, an obscure sixties
radical with whom he was allegedly friendly, and the burning constitutional question
of why he doesn't wear an American flag pin on his lapel," said Michael Grunwald of
The odds are you hadn't heard about Bill Ayres until George Stephanopoulos asked
Sen. Obama about him. Now a professor of education at the University of
IllinoisChicago, Mr. Ayres joined the Weatherman domestic terror group in 1969,
and took part in bombings of several police stations and the Pentagon. He became a
fugitive after a bomb he and his associates were planning to place in the Fort Dix
officers' club exploded prematurely, killing three. While on the run, Mr. Ayres
married fellow terrorist Bernadine Dohrn. They turned themselves in 1981, but
charges against them were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
In an interview with the New York Times published, ironically, on Sept. 11, 2001,
Mr. Ayers said: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."
Mr. Ayres lives in the same Hyde Park neighborhood as does Sen. Obama. They met in
Mr. Ayres' home in 1995, when Barack was first running for the state senate. They
were introduced by State Sen. Alice Palmer, who was vacating the seat to run for
"When I first me Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in
the living room of those two legends in their own minds, Bill Ayres and Bernadine
Dohrn," wrote Maria Warren on her blog in 2005. "They were launching him
introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread."
Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayres have remained friendly. They served together on the board
of the Woods Foundation. Both spoke at a testimonial dinner for Rashid Khalidi, a
former PLO spokesman who is now a professor at Columbia University. (Mr. Khalidi is
another of Sen. Obama's circle that journalists covering his campaign don't think
you need to know about.)
Sen. Obama said his relationship with Mr. Ayers is inconsequential because he was
only eight years old when Mr. Ayers was planting his bombs. Most journalists agree.
Questions about character are only appropriate if they are directed at Republicans.
But Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman disagrees: "His comfortable association
with an unrepentant former terrorist should induce queasiness in anyone who shares
the humane values that Obama extols," he wrote Sunday.