The Times Squeezes Juice out of Hillary Campaign's Panicky Attack on Obama

A top Hillary adviser not so slyly brought up Democratic rival Barack Obama's past drug use in an interview with the Washington Post, but the Times buried in on page 35.

Desperate times for Hillary? In an interview with the Washington Post, William Shaheen, a top adviser to the Clinton campaign, not so slyly brought up Democratic rival Barack Obama's past drug use (which Obama has written about in his memoir) by suggesting it was an issue those nasty old Republicans would exploit if Obama somehow ended up the party's nominee. After a backlash, the campaign disowned the comment, but Jeff Zeleny's story was a bit lacking in political sizzle.

Here's Zeleny's piece, in its entirety:

"A top adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that Senator Barack Obama's admission of illegal drug use as a young man could threaten his electability and be seized on by Republicans if he won the Democratic presidential nomination.

"A co-chairman of Mrs. Clinton's national and New Hampshire campaigns, William Shaheen, raised the question in an interview with The Washington Post. He said voters should study Mr. Obama's background as they chose a candidate, warning that Republicans would scour for new details about a period of Mr. Obama's life more than 20 years ago when he admitted using marijuana and cocaine.

"According to The Post's Web site, Mr. Shaheen said, 'It'll be: "When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?" There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome.'

"The remarks represented the most direct criticism by a top official in the Clinton campaign. A Clinton spokesman, Phil Singer, said, 'These comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way.'

"Mr. Singer would not say whether the campaign distanced itself from the remarks or if Mr. Shaheen would be reprimanded.

"In a statement later, Mr. Shaheen said, 'I deeply regret the comments I made today, and they were not authorized by the campaign in any way.'

"He and his wife, Jeanne Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor who is running for the Senate, are close friends with Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, called Mr. Shaheen's comment a 'desperate effort to slow her slide in the polls.' He said, "Senator Clinton's campaign is recycling old news that Barack Obama has been candid about in a book he wrote years ago."

The brief story landed on page 35, topped with a bland, don't-bother headline, "Clinton Aide Sees Problem for Obama."

By contrast, the Washington Post folded it into the fifth paragraph of the paper's front-page story on the Clinton campaign's inability to grasp the intricacies of the Iowa caucus and gave it more weight:

"If advisers were worried about appearing panicked in early October, some are less able to hide it now. Bill Shaheen, the Clinton co-chairman in New Hampshire, raised questions on Wednesday about Obama's admission that he had tried drugs, a risky tactic that telegraphed the nervousness within the Clinton campaign."

Incidentally, the story was written by former Times' staffer Anne Kornblut.