Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jackie Calmes 1, Rest of News Media, 0

In the battle for supremacy among White House correspondents in the Barack Obama administration, Times correspondent Jackie Calmes launched a brilliant opening salvo with her lead story in this morning's paper.

Calmes's 1,411-word report on the president-elect's visit to the White House yesterday offered news lacking in softball coverage elsewhere -- focusing in depth on the growing conflict over how to handle the auto industry crisis.

The Times broke the story on its website of a proposed deal between Obama and Bush that would have involved an epic political horse trade: Bush's support for Obama's stimulus package if Congressional Democrats dropped their opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia. That scoop presumably got handed to the Times (and the Washington Post) by incoming press secretary Robert Gibbs and future chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, also known as "people familiar with the discussion."

But Calmes took her reporting several steps further than the Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal (the paper Calmes left last August to join the Times's Washington bureau), or Chicago Tribune, which devoted part of its story to speculation about Obama's Senate seat. While other papers depended on Senator Carl Levin's predictable quotes and/or speculated on the possibility of a lame duck session, Calmes made clear that no compromise was reached.

"Democrats also indicate that neither Mr. Obama, nor Congressional leaders are inclined to concede the Colombis pack to Mr. Bush, and may decide to wait until Mr. Obama assumes power on Jan. 20," Calmes wrote in the fifth paragraph.

Her story went on to explain, in considerable detail, how the auto industry crisis has created a crucial distinction between the two Administrations, and laid out (in her words) the lines both men have drawn. She examined Obama's campaign promises on the topic, reported on the varying positions of interest groups, and even noted that Obama has involved Al Gore in the conversations.

The Post's story on the Bush-Obama meeting, by Lori Montgomery and Michael D. Shear, had the scoop but none of the perspective, and left readers wondering what exactly had taken place in the Oval Office.

The Los Angeles Times pushed its Bush-Obama story to page A12 and came in a distant third place in reporting and insight. The Wall Street Journal combined its automakers coverage with its human-interest account of the Obama White House visit, and informed us in paragraph 3 that Obama arrived there in a limousine instead of his usual SUV.

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