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The NYTimes Bows Before Obama

5:43 PM, Apr 6, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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When Obama bowed before the Saudi King, it was only slightly more unseemly than Bush's romantic, hand-in-hand walk with the same monarch, but unlike Bush's bromance with Abdullah, Obama violated protocol. American presidents do not bow before foreign dignitaries, whether they are princes, kings, or emperors. Right-wing blogs went nuts over Obama's deep bow, but left-wing blogs and mainstream publications ignored the affront to American tradition. The New York Times made no mention at all of Obama's submissive posture, which was odd because, as one blogger noted, the paper used to consider such a gaffe "unthinkable." Here is Doug Jehl in 1994 on Bill Clinton's near bow to Emperor Akihito:

But the "thou need not bow" commandment from the State Department's protocol office maintained a constancy of more than 200 years. Administration officials scurried to insist that the eager-to-please President had not really done the unthinkable.

"It was not a bow-bow, if you know what I mean," said Ambassador Molly Raiser, the chief of protocol.

White House officials described Mr. Clinton's tilt as something of an improvisation. Because Emperor Akihito broke with tradition in turn to raise his glass at the state dinner, some even said Mr. Clinton had managed something of a breakthrough.

"Presidents don't bow, and Emperors don't toast," one official said. "So this was a little bit like the cultures meeting each other halfway."

Fifteen years later and Doug Jehl is now an editor at the New York Times. When the paper failed to cover the controversy surrounding the appointment of Chas Freeman until after Freeman had withdrawn his name from consideration, Jehl told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent that "We did initially elect not to write a story about the campaign against Mr. Freeman. In deciding how to deploy our reporters, my initial judgment was that this squabble fell short of the bar, since the head of the National Intelligence Council is not a Senate-confirmable position and it lies well below cabinet rank."

As we noted here at the time, despite Jehl's assessment that Freeman's appointment wasn't newsworthy, the New York Times had covered the Bush administration's appointment of Thomas Fingar to the same post -- such an appointment was newsworthy just three years ago. Apparently it takes fifteen years for the "unthinkable" to become entirely unremarkable.

HT: Hot Air