20 Jul 2008

Definitive Obama Puff Piece

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The Onion Imagines the next Time Magazine Obama profile.

Time managing editor Rich Stengel said he was proud of the Obama puff piece, and that he hoped it would help to redefine the boundaries of journalistic drivel.

“When the American people cast their vote this November, this is the piece of fluff they’re going to remember,” Stengel said. “Not the ones by Newsweek, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Economist, Nightline, The Wall Street Journal, or even that story about lessons Obama learned from his first-grade teacher we ran a month ago.”

The article, which follows Obama for 12 days during his campaign, was written by reporter Chris Sherwood, and is relentless in its attempt to capture the candidate at his most poised and polished. Sherwood said the profile easily trumps all other fluff pieces in its effort to expose the presidential candidate for who he really is: “an awesome guy.”

“My editors told me that if I wanted to uncover the most frivolous, trivial information on Obama, I had to be prepared to follow the puff,” Sherwood said. “That meant that not only did I have to stay and watch Sen. Obama play endless games of basketball with city firemen to show readers how athletic and youthful he is, but I also had to go to NBA shooting experts to learn what aspects of his jump shot are good and what parts are great.”

Sherwood said he was granted full access to the candidate, and was permitted by chief strategist David Axelrod to ask any question he desired—an opportunity the reporter used to lob the easiest softballs at Obama yet, ranging from how happy he felt when he met his wife to what songs are currently on his iPod playlist. Sherwood was also fearless in his effort to paint the candidate as someone who is “surprisingly down to earth,” a phrase that is used a total of 26 times throughout the feature.

“If we were going to get the story we wanted, it was my responsibility as a journalist to ask the really tough questions to his two young daughters,” said Sherwood, who grilled Malia and Sasha Obama, 9 and 7, about whether they were “proud of [their] daddy.” “I also had to capitalize on every opportunity to compare the story of Obama’s upbringing and rise to power to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and John F. Kennedy’s, no matter how suspect those parallels really are.”

According to the Time reporter, work on the profile was often harder than he had anticipated, with Obama at times dodging questions about whether or not he played a musical instrument, and about what Monopoly piece he thought best represented his candidacy and why.

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