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How N.Y. Times buried Ayers–Obama link

In early April, former Weather Underground honcho Bill Ayers surprised no one on the right side of the blogosphere when he acknowledged a series of facts the Obama campaign had long denied or suppressed.

“We served on a couple of boards together, that was true,” Ayers told the Daily Beast. “He held a fundraiser in our living room, that was true; Michelle and Bernardine were at the law firm together, that was true.”

In April 2013 these revelations had little impact. In the fall of 2008, they could have reshaped the election. The New York Times made sure that they did not.

On Oct. 3 of that year, Scott Shane of the Times wrote the authoritative article staking out the claim that “Ayers was never a significant influence on [Obama.]”

Although he conceded that Ayers hosted a coffee for candidate Obama in 1995 – as so many other neighbors surely had – Shane rejected the more serious charge that Ayers “engineered” Obama’s appointment as chair of the influential $150 million educational reform boondoggle called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC).

Shane suggested that Ayers was first introduced to Obama in the spring of 1995 by two foundation presidents who recruited Obama to preside over the CAC. “In fact,” wrote Shane, “according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment.”

During the 2008 election cycle, of course, the Times was not unique in its willful ignorance. Ben Smith, then of Politico, had reported as fact Obama adviser David Axelrod’s claim that the Obama-Ayers relationship went no deeper than the happenstance that their children “attend the same school.”

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True, upon learning that Obama’s oldest child was born 18 years after Ayers’ youngest, Smith added a comically circuitous “update,” but the media shied from chasing the story or even chiding Axelrod.

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos raised the question of the Ayers relationship during an April 2008 presidential debate, he fueled what the L.A. Times called a “storm of criticism.”

That criticism, of course, was aimed at Stephanopoulos. How dare he confront Obama with “such tired tripe,” demanded the Washington Post’s Tom Shales. How dare he ask Obama about an “obscure ’60s radical,” asked Michael Grunwald of Time magazine.

Stephen Diamond, an impeccably credentialed leftist attorney and political scientist, knew then what the media refused to even explore. In 2008, he tried to convince the New York Times of the same, but its reporters and editors refused to listen.

As Diamond notes on a recent blog posting, he had five separate interviews with three different Times reporters. At the time he presented compelling evidence that Ayers alone had the legal power to appoint Obama to the CAC board and that their relationship was deeper than acknowledged.

Since then, as Diamond notes, Obama biographer and New Yorker Editor David Remnick confirmed Ayers’ role in Obama’s ascendancy, including the appointment to the CAC board.

As further testament to the strength of the Ayers-Obama relationship, Diamond also notes that mainstream biographer Christopher Andersen “explained the key role Ayers played in helping Obama finish his memoir,” an assertion I first made on these pages in September 2008. Curiously, this was one “rumor” Ayers chose neither to confirm nor deny in his Daily Beast interview.

Diamond was particularly intrigued by Ayers’ seemingly casual remark that “Michelle and Bernardine were at the law firm together.” That would be the Chicago firm of Sidley Austin.

“The use of the word ‘together’ by Ayers suggests that Dohrn and Michelle knew each other not just that they were employed by the same entity,” writes Diamond.

As Diamond recounts, Dohrn’s criminal association with the Weather Underground prevented her from becoming a lawyer despite her law degree. Sidley hired her in some unspecified capacity likely as a favor to Tom Ayers, Bill’s father and the chairman of Commonwealth Edison.

The Michelle/Bernardine “together” period at Sidley and Austin lasted from roughly 1988 to 1991 when both left for greener – and in Michelle’s case, easier – pastures. Obama interned at Sidley Austin in summer 1989. It was there that he met Michelle.

As Diamond accurately observes, almost no one has attempted to trace the first connection between the Obamas and Ayers/Dohrn to that Sidley Austin togetherness period. Now Ayers has admitted as much, and the media choose again not to notice.

Diamond himself earlier produced the most credible evidence that Obama and Ayers were associated as early as the 1980s. That was the interview he first conducted with the mailman who remembered meeting Obama when he visited Ayers’ parents’ home in suburban Chicago.

Diamond’s revelations about the relationship between Ayers and Obama take on new a new significance in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

We see now that it was no more than a decade after Bill Ayers walked away – “Guilty as hell. Free as a bird.” – from his 1970s career as an underground bomber that he became Obama’s mentor, political adviser and literary ghost.

Like the brothers Tsarnaev, Ayers and company had at least four notches on their belt. Although it seems unlikely now, who knows whether the surviving brother, Dzhokhar, will be palling around with a president a decade or so down the road?

Stranger things have happened.


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