Scott Shane's New York Times story Friday, linked President Obama to President Jimmy Carter. Shane maintains that Obama, like Carter before him, could also be a one-term president.
The New York Times must have gone into a panic mode for its editors to set Shane loose on such a comparison. There is a good reason for that panic.
Polls show that, especially in crucial swing states, President Obama's lead is increasing over his challenger, Mitt Romney. Even Benjamin Netanyahu a bove, during his UN speech) has thrown in the towel, promising to hold off his attack on Iran until after the election.
The Times hit the panic button not because it wants Romney to win. What frightens the Times is the same realization that hits sports editors when a football team loses both its star quarterback and leading receiver just before the Super Bowl.
A month is a long time to cover a political fight when the outcome is already determined. What to do? What is a profit-oriented publication giant to do with all those political news pages to fill?
Not to worry, the Times knows narratives can be generated. It also knows the best narrative is the conflict narrative. As the old city editor always said, "conflict is what sells papers, kid, never forget that."
So it is that the Times looks for ways to instruct candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, "let's you and him fight". That old saying just happens to be the title of a great old movie cartoon starring Popeye (shown at left) during which Popeye's faithful girl friend, Olive Oyl, knowing Popeye is doomed to lose, reaches for Popeye's main source of energy, a can of spinach.
Olive Oyl races to the boxing ring where Popeye is down for the count. She gives him his spinach, which, of course, brings him to life and gives him strength. Take a look at the six minute video to see Popeye and Olive Oyl in action:
What can the Times do to generate a fight in the political ring even though every political signal says, it's over? Simple, just bring on the spinach.
Ignoring the polls that show the race virtually over, the Times sends Scott Shane to ringside, with his can of spinach, which is a story that links Obama to Carter as a one-term president. Never mind that the linkage is spurious and unfaithful to history. No one believes that spinach has that much energy-producing power, either. It is the story that matters.
The Times can tolerate a spurious comparison, so long as it brings life back into the fight. Scott Shane begins his spinach story with the always useful, alarming phrase; he tells us a president is "struggling." Hey, everybody, listen up, the game is still on.
The Times, like the Broadway gamblers in Guys and Dolls, led by Nathan Detroit, (played in the movie by Frank Sinatra ), has been pleading, we "gotta have a game, or we'll die from shame." Now the Times has its game:
"A president struggling simultaneously to cope with anti-American tumult in the Middle East and fix stubborn economic trouble at home: Is President Obama replaying the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter?
"So Mitt Romney and Paul D. Ryan have repeatedly suggested, trying to use the glum precedent of the Carter presidency to taint Mr. Obama's record and produce the same electoral result 32 years later."
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