Monday, November 17, 2008

Will Obama's Defense Policy Be Zone, or Man-to-Man?

This morning's accounting of the sports experience of the world's foreign leaders -- building off the fact of Barack Obama's hoop stardom in high school -- ranks high among the most useless and embarrassing examples of Obama-driven faux journalism to turn up in the Times in months, if not years.

Aside from reporter Christopher Clarey's desperate, failed reaches for humor -- "It is probably best...that Obama avoid getting too sporty with Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin," he writes, a strongman in both senses of the term" -- there's nothing here except a laundry list of their athletic backgrounds and the suggestion of hypothetical sports competition with the president-elect.

The Times has never been particularly comfortable with humor -- anyone who has ever combed "The Funny Pages" in the Times Magazine for a laugh knows that -- and has failed miserably here to extract a chuckle from the notion of Obama matching up his left-handed jump shot with other heads of state:

China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, likes basketball and was photographed in action earlier this year during a visit to China’s national team practice. Wen, then 65, was wearing street clothes in the photograph but he was definitely airborne as he shot with — Obama fans take note — his left hand.

Clarey concludes not by putting his assessments into context, but by trying to treat serious issues with Onion-style wit. Which might have worked if he had any, but alas:

[Nuaru president Marcus] Stephen, who took office last year, became a big fish in this puddle by winning five gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and a silver at the 1999 world championships as a weight lifter. He was also an Olympian. But the heaviest lifting may be yet to come. As Stephen pointed out in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, “Global warming is predicted conservatively to raise sea level by one meter in this century.”

“This will flood our only habitable land,” he said. “Our people will literally be trapped between the rising sea and an ancient, uninhabitable coral field.”

And Obama thought he had problems.

Actually, Obama does have one or two problems that can't be solved in a game of one-on-one; has Clarey been reading the front page? Maybe he should steer clear of the humor beat and stick to covering tennis.

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