03/02/2009 09:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Modus Operandi: NYT Coverage of Coen Brothers Clean Coal Ad

obama speaking campaigning presidential election 2008 crows change we can believe in sign finger point placard photo

Last week, I jumped on a conference call (transcript here) put together around the launch of a satirical clean coal television directed by the Coen Brothers. Over at Treehugger, I've got our Top 10 Countdown of the media coverage resulting from the spot's premiere. Less than estimably, The New York Times kicks off the list. What follows is the extended commentary.

#10. NYT - Green Inc.: The Coen Brothers Do Clean Coal

The Times in venerable (think "dysfunctional") journalistic tradition (think "half unconscious") snipes at Obama in its opening sentence salvo of its post with "Even as President Obama continues to push for development of "clean coal" The Times, as are many of us who have the jitters about the planet's energy future, fails to recognize the genius of the Obama M.O. A modus operendi demonstrated countless times throughout the campaign as well as during the debates:

1) This is a multi-cultural man which means, vis-a-vis a still in play centuries-old construction of whiteness, he is a black man. My observation of personal colleagues as well as any number of successful African-American intellectuals / leaders bears out that rule one on that path to success is to come off as non-threatening. Think MLK or Malcomn X in their suits and ties.

2) The second thing Obama does is to build bridges. If the bridge holds, so much the better, progress is made. However, more interesting is the other half refuses to go in fifty-fifty on the metaphorical bridge construction project. For example, Obama extend invitations to the GOP which then goes and shoots itself in the collective foot with cockamamy rejections. It would be tempting to attribute this GOPers having been duped by the Cool-O, but understand that Obama's M.O. is to make such overtures genuinely, in the hope of the bridge going forward in the first place. Obama is simply too good a) a politician b) a leader and c) a moral being to "play games." One can observe glimmers of Obama playing from the depths of his soul: offer the other cheek and then if the horse don't drink, the egg is on his face not yours -- it really is as simple as mixing cliches crudely. There's nothing intellectual Harvard in this, rather this choice emerges from the simplest human wisdom that we ALL possess the capacity to achieve; however until we choose to strive honestly, rationally and with conviction our own actions will be our undoing. So when the opposing party fails themselves in response to generosity, the door is open for number three...

3) He gets what he wants. Obama's way of going in the for the kill and winning is, to say the least, nothing short of stealthy. Ninja has teed-up prey now to be called out not only as a non-bridge builder, but worse, as a bridge-burner. As flames rise, Obama once again extends a hand to the now vanquished, bringing them firmly to the terrain he has presently won from them, encouraging the collective work to continue.

Now, with regard to the coal endgame...

1) Non-threatening:

a. during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama takes care not to piss off the coal industry, states like Montana and donors/voters with allegiances or affections for coal powered energy. He says we can put a man on the moon, we can make coal clean, however without stipulating how long it should take; he seems to count on people's tendancy to hear what they want to hear.

Barack Obama Supports Developing Clean Coal Technology

b. during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama takes care not to piss off environmentalists by stating his belief in global warming and aztec-two-stepping his support of clean coal by implying a precondition to coal use needs be leveraging American gumption to cleanify coal; he seems to count on people's tendancy to hear what they want to hear.

Lebanon, Virginia September 25, 2008:

2) Build Bridges
We all want the same thing: power to our homes and businesses as well as clean air for we the people. I know you in the coal industry are good folks. Come on board and show us that clean tech you've been developing and advertising so much about.

3) The Ninja Kill

Wow, guys, we're really behind on this clean coal thing. Looks like not much has gone into developing carbon capture and sequestration tech. Mmm, now that we look at the budget numbers, seems solar is a better bet from a business perspective too. Sorry, no-can-do on the government funding, but how about you join us in a fresh approach to pursuing renewables?

Okay, back to the Times. There's this nugget rocketed straight out of the Confuse The Weak-Minded with Hyperbole meth lab of a coal industry think tank:

Of course, even The Reality Coalition's own language suggests that the clean coal the Obama administration hopes to pursue is not necessarily a pipe dream. It just does not exist yet.

See the above explanation of O maneuvering and additionally: Really, NYT? Really: the contemptuous dismissal of the urgency of the climate situation by means of a pipe smoking metaphor the words of which are jammed like so many marijuana cigarettes into the Obama administration's mouth. Smooth! The Times shills for the Coal Industry bolstering an attitude of accountability tantamount to a pot-head dealer saying "I'm going to be CEO of that fortune 500 company, but I'm just not there yet. I'm going to stop toking away my best work days soon." The "of course" used to launch the sentence was a nice touch too -- just to make sure we knew the author was being snarky. Hey, it worked for those snarking blogger kids who have been stealing our journalistic cheese for some time now, to the point of newspaper industry collapse! Let's we journalists get down and snarky right quick.

Then, The Times caps it off by adhering to the highest standards of journalism; that being snide, dismissive and unsubstantiated crap (okay, now I'm being snarky):

It is unclear whether the ads are having the intended effect -- that is, nudging the coal companies to more quickly develop carbon capture and storage -- or merely convincing Americans that improving the greenhouse emissions of the coal industry is an impossibility.

Talk about your nihilism. Dude, that's a grim view of what's trying to be accomplished here. Haven't you read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? What you be doing called "lose-lose," baby.

Further, 1) the intended effect is not to nudge coal companies and 2) there is nothing "mere" in informing Americans about the truth of coal. That is to say in countering a multi-million dollar disinformation campaign to afford the American People an opportunity to choose honestly the path for the planet there is no small aim of achieving the minor result of pissing in the coal industry's well. The aim is nothing less than to bring forth the inconvenient truth that time is of the essence, or put differently, time no longer permits for the development of carbon capture and storage.