I remember hearing that Muhammad Ali was Barack Obama’s favorite athlete, so maybe this is an appropriate story to tell the day after Obama’s victory. As I was listening to the network coverage of the election results last night and this evening, I was reminded of something I read after Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman for the Heavyweight Championship nearly forty years ago. I was struck by the similarity of the treatment in the press of Ali’s victory and Obama’s victory by certain journalists.
For those who are unfamiliar with the career of Muhammad Ali, he was an enormous underdog coming into his fight with Heavyweight Champion George Foreman. Foreman had won the championship by annihilating Joe Frazier, the man who had beaten Ali, in two rounds. Foreman was considered invincible. In one of the most famous fights in boxing history, Ali employed the now famous rope-a-dope strategy to exhaust Foreman, before eventually knocking Foreman out in the eighth round. This diary is about the reaction of one writer to that fight and how it relates to the press coverage of yesterday’s Democratic victories,
One of the most remarkable aspects of Muhammad Ali’s career was his relationship with the press. No matter what they wrote about him, Ali seemed to enjoy the attention. There was no telling how he might react, but he always seemed purposeful. Whether it was promoting his fights or explaining his positions of conscience, he took it all in stride. However, over the years, many reporters seemed develop a deep hatred of Ali, which they were unable to contain when they wrote about him. One of the most famous of these was Red Smith.
At the time Red Smith was considered the dean of American sportswriters by many. He was writing a column in the New York Times, I believe called, “Sports of the Times“. He hated Muhammad Ali. And it was apparent in virtually everything he ever wrote about Ali. So after Ali fought one of the greatest fights in boxing history, Smith wrote a column all about George Foreman’s deficiencies. He did not give Muhammad Ali one ounce of credit. He wrote about Foreman’s poor training habits, his inexplicable strategy, his overrated prior victories, etc.. I will always remember the column, because it was memorable not for its subject matter but for the obvious bitterness of the man who wrote it, which brings us to yesterday’s election.
As I listened to yesterday’s network election coverage, it struck me as remarkably similar to the Red Smith’s column after the Ali Foreman fight. What should have been viewed as a remarkable victory, was instead dissected and explained away. It was all about explanations, or demographics or campaign strategies, or Romney’s inadequacies. In an election that was not very close, in very tough times, Obama was given absolutely no credit for having been a good President against tremendous odds, and unprecedented obstructionism.
The networks wanted the story to be about a tight race and a narrow victory, with a dismal prospect for future successes, so that’s what they made it. This was actually a dominant electoral victory, and a clear and convincing popular vote victory. Barack Obama has every right to claim a mandate. But the media will do everything to prevent it, because they are afraid to buck the right wing narrative of current events. The media also seems obsessed with making sure that Obama’s second term is more difficult than his first.
I repeat, I did not hear one person venture the opinion that Barack Obama had been reelected because he had been a good President or because he had earned a second term. This to me is astonishing.