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The Ralph Nader-Barack Obama Controversy, or Lack Thereof

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In recent days, the Rocky Mountain News has tried its damnedest to excite the public about accusatory comments made by White House (no) hopeful Ralph Nader about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. On June 25, the paper highlighted a piece by M.E. Sprengelmeyer in which Nader accused Obama of trying to "talk white" and said, "He wants to appeal to white guilt... Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up." Then, the next day, the Rocky devoted its cover, astonishingly enough, to a followup story headlined "Obama Fires Back at Nader's Barbs."

In fact, Obama didn't waste much ammo on Nader, dismissing him in a news conference as a "perennial political candidate" desperately trying to gain attention for a campaign that "hasn't gotten any traction." And this last comment also applies to the Rocky's alleged "scoop."

Yes, Nader has a proud history as a consumer advocate, as Obama noted in his remarks. And yes, Nader was actually a factor in the 2000 presidential race, owing to the infamous balloting snafu in Florida, which magnified the impact of the relative handful of votes he collected nationwide. But his presence in the race made zero difference in 2004, and no one with even a relatively steady grasp on reality expects that to change this time around. Like the last player selected in each year's NFL draft, he's Mr. Irrelevant.

For that reason, the Rocky's attempt to turn Nader's broadside into a sizable story -- particularly by blowing it out on page one -- calls the paper's news judgment into question. It's understandable that editors want to keep their focus on Dems in the run-up to this August's Democratic National Convention. But if they keep making more of certain reports than they deserve to fill some arbitrary quota, readers may start tuning them out at the worst possible time. -- Michael Roberts

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