COMMENTS: Barack Takes Baghdad

There were two ways to cover Barack Obama's factfinding visit to Baghdad. Either treat it as a story about the future of the Iraq War: contrasting his policy on troop deployments with those of the leaders he met, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Gen David Petraeus. Or treat is a story about the future of Campaign 2008: examining the fitness of the Democratic candidate for a foreign policy Presidency. ABC led with the campaign angle; CBS and NBC led with the war angle. Obama the candidate won out as Story of the Day, however, thanks to CBS anchor Katie Couric's contribution, on the road in Jordan, where she lay the groundwork for her Tuesday one-on-one with him. NBC used substitute anchor Ann Curry while ABC expanded its newshole on this busy day of news (23 min v CBS 19, NBC 20), courtesy of the prescription brand Caduet, its single sponsor.

ABC chose to make Obama himself the focus of its coverage thanks to a sitdown granted to Nightline anchor Terry Moran. Moran's headline was that Obama continues to stand by his opposition to President George Bush's troop reinforcement of the spring of 2007, the so-called surge. "At that time we had to change the political debate," he insisted. Moran pressed, pointing out that since the surge, Iraq has been "transformed" with "horrific violence" moderating. Obama conceded that "he did not anticipate what people here sometimes call the Iraqi surge, the uprising of Iraqis against al-Qaeda extremists and Shiite extremists." Moran asked Obama to explain why he prefers a 16-month timetable for withdrawal over a flexible troops-out schedule based on local conditions. "I am going to try to pin you down on this," the newsman insisted. Obama objected to the premise of the question, refusing "to get boxed into what I consider two false choices."


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