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Press of Politics

Barack Obama emerged triumphant from his 2008 World Tour, as a just-released Gallup Poll shows he got a bump from his trip and now holds a nine-point lead over Republican rival John McCain, his largest to date.

The around-the-clock media coverage of the soon-to-be-official Democratic presidential candidate was so fawning and gushing that Johnny Mac's bitter handlers dubbed Obama "The One," a shot of sour snark that had about as much effect as a comic telling jokes to the band.

The warm glow of limelight bathing Obama, however, was belied by an outbreak of aggressive arrogance towards the press by the campaign's media wranglers, who also aimed some punishing payback at particular reporters perceived to be insufficiently adoring in their coverage. Gabriel Sherman of the New Republic captured the current roiled state of affairs aboard the press bus in a nice piece of media reporting titled "End of the Affair."

All this might be shrugged off as typical whining by political journalists, a notoriously thin-skinned lot, were it not for several dollops of evidence of some fundamental and troubling values afoot in Team Obama's zeitgeist, a punk-you pushback attitude more befitting old time, with-us-or-against-us hacks than the candidates' shining vision of a new kind of politics.

Exhibit A in this regard is Ryan Lizza, ace political reporter for the New Yorker. It was Lizza's superb, long-form profile of Obama's political coming of age in Chicago that was wrapped and unfortunately overshadowed by the magazine's controversial cover illustration ironically depicting the Illinois Senator and wife Michelle in terrorist garb.

A few days after the issue appeared, Lizza was banned from the manifest of 40 media representatives who scored coveted seats on Obama's big odyssey to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe. Conventional wisdom had it that the New Yorker's exclusion was retaliation for the magazine's cover art, but a thorough reading of Lizza's "Making It How Chicago Shaped Obama," suggests the campaign might well have been even more upset about the meaty piece inside.

Based on in-depth interviews with seemingly every person who played a key role in Obama's rapid ascent to the highest level of American politics, the article portrays a very different person than the doe-eyed idealist packaged in campaign commercials. This Obama - opportunistic, ruthless and single-mindedly ambitious - never paused for an instant once he started running for office. At one point, Lizza quotes Toni Preckwinkle, a former key mentor and supporter, who has "become disenchanted with Barack Obama."

"I think he was very strategic in his choice of friends and mentors," she told me. "I spent ten years of my adult life working to be alderman. I finally got elected. This is a job I love. And I'm perfectly happy with it. I'm not sure that's the way that (Obama) approached his public life that he was going to try for a job and stay there for one period of time. In retrospect, I think he saw the positions he held as stepping stones to other things and therefore approached his public life differently than other people might have."

In case you missed it amid all the Obama hubbub, former Democratic contender John Edwards all but set his famous hair on fire last week, likely destroying any chance he had of playing a cabinet or other key role in a new administration.

In one of the more humiliating performances in recent political history, Edwards got chased into a hotel bathroom in L.A., locking himself into a stall, by reporters for the National Enquirer who ambushed him in the pre-dawn hours after he paid a visit to a woman not his wife and their purported "love child." Whatever you may think of the Enquirer, its tactics and its news judgment, Edwards' behavior, later confirmed by other news organizations, was simply jaw-dropping.

Questions of whether and how to report on the incident set off a major press kerfuffle, as bloggers and Main Stream Media types clashed for days over the ethics and newsworthiness of the controversy, an intriguing debate that offered a glimpse at some of the fundamental issues at stake in the transformation of the news industry now underway. The best blow-by-blow may be found in kausfiles, the terrific blog on Slate.com scribed by the estimable Mickey Kaus.

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