David Axelrod and Sam Graham-Felsen: Obama’s Journalists-turned-Staffers

Today’s Sunday New York Times Magazine profile details Obama chief strategist David Axelrod and his 1984 decision to abandon journalism for campaign consulting. In the last couple of weeks, another ex-journalist has joined the Obama camp. Official campaign blogger Sam Graham-Felsen was until recently a free-lance writer for the Nation– his Nation bio states that “since March 2007, he has been on leave” while working on the campaign; his first post for Obama was March 19. (On Saturday I mentioned the back-and-forth between Obama critic Paul Simon Democrat and Graham-Felsen.)

Graham-Felsen the journalist was clearly enthused by Obama. He wrote several articles about, and in favor of, the young Senator.

Eyebrows will always rise when a journalist accepts a job within an industry or with a company that she has been covering. Such professional transitions are surely common and acceptable occurrences, provided that the relevant parties make it clear that the two roles do not overlap.

On the surface, certainly, there is no reason to doubt the motives of Graham-Felsen, the campaign or the Nation. The most likely scenario: a web-savvy and talented young writer with an expressed appreciation for Obama’s appeal came to the attention of the campaign and a job offer ensued and Graham-Felsen stopped reporting on Obama and the campaign. Nevertheless, a brief review of Graham-Felsen’a Obama journalism:
In February, he penned Obama’s Impressive Youth Roots, a paean to the campaign’s web appeal and a look at a rally at George Mason University. (The campaign itself linked to the article.)

Obama’s youth following is more than a bunch of kids who clicked a button. Before the rally, Obama’s campaign already knew they had a massive presence on Facebook. Students for Barack Obama (SFBO) had around 60,000 members, and even more astonishingly, a 26-year-old named Farouk Olu Aregbe had assembled more than 200,000 in his Facebook group “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” in little more than two weeks (the group now has more than 272,000 members). According to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, the growth was “unprecedented.” As a point of comparison, the Facebook group for Hillary Clinton has fewer than 4,000 students and the largest group for John Edwards has half that…[Obama’s] campaign has allowed a youth-led grassroots following to sprout organically without interference. … by attending the George Mason rally, Obama signaled to students that he respects their ability and power as organizers, and acknowledges what a grassroots youth movement could bring to his campaign. It’s clear that Obama will have to run a nontraditional, decentralized campaign if he wants to see this kind of energy flourish. He’ll have to communicate consistently and directly with students, in their medium….If Obama can show his young followers that he’s still that grassroots organizer–a rock star perhaps, but one who listens to, trusts and empowers his base to come on stage and rock with him–it’s going to be one hell of a show.

Also in February in the Nation, he wrote “Obama Steps Up on Iraq.”

Obama already has a massive and growing youth following, and this announcement can only add to Generation Y’s Obamamania. Young people are pining for something new–and now they’ve got more than a guy who gives great speeches about the future. Now they’ve got a guy who’s offering a concrete policy change on the most pressing issue of their generation.

Obama’s got the youth vote locked up, and with his new announcement, he may have the Netroots and the grassroots anti-war left behind him as well. These are three extremely powerful bases of support– folks who won’t simply vote, but also volunteer, blog, organize, and raise money.

In 2006, he praised Obama’s “electric” address to a Save Darfur rally and, in October, reported on youth enthusiasm for the Senator in Bonkers for Obama:

if Obama decides to run, he will have a tremendous base in young people. Obama would likely draw an unprecedented number of new young voters to the polls, and he would amass a huge volunteer core (one that would make the Deaniacs look like the Teeniacs).

As far as I can tell, he is by far the political superstar of the moment—and perhaps ever—for Generation Y.

In a comment to that post, he added,

In interviews I’ve done with young people, casual discussions, based on my reactions to young people listening to Obama speak, I’ve never seen anything like the amount of excitement he’s produced.



There is no indication that Graham-Felsen reported anything but the truth as he saw it, hyperbolic though it may be at times. Nevertheless, readers deserve a statement from the Nation assuring us that Graham-Felsen had no relationship or understanding with the campaign whilst covering the 08 elections.

(I searched for, but failed to find, an email address for Graham-Felsen on the Obama and Nation web sites, or anywhere else.)

(Cross-posted from ObamaMedia.)


8 thoughts on “David Axelrod and Sam Graham-Felsen: Obama’s Journalists-turned-Staffers

  1. I am a Democrat and personally I think Obama is arrogant…and that this will be his downfall amongst educated, well-rounded, mature and informed American voters:



    I also believe that websites like the one listed below may ultimately determine why more and more Democrats will defect to John McCain’s camp.

    Unfortunately, there is little about Obama that a website like the one below says that can be refuted…that is, unless you’ve flunked Philosophy 101 in college,or never got to college in the first place.

    Check it out: http://www.chilkootmarketing.com/index.htm

    What can be done?

    Sooner or later all of us will have to reckon with our conscience and higher intellectual powers and when this occures we will invariably be forced to choose between either ‘principle’ or the physical attributes of the other candidate.

    Which candidate is traveling down the wrong road on critical issues?

    Which do you think will win out, come November? ‘

    ‘Higher principles’ or the ‘physical’ attributes of a particular candidate?

    Predictably, older voters will vote in favor of ‘principle’… obviously, because they are more concerned about what happens after death and the legacy they will leave behind.

    In contrast, the younger voters, since they have more time left in life to recant, are more likely to be reckless and procrastinate with any decision in favor of principle, and will likely vote in favor of ‘idealism’…

    …and these are the young and youthful voters that Obama appeals to and also why a lot of us older folks see Obama as ‘the Pied Piper of the niave’.

    However, (which is the next question that begs itself): ‘When does Barack’s own conscience begin to bother him?’

    Personally, I think Obama needs to start thinking about what he can do to ‘remake’ his image if he wants to win this election.

    I’m not sure that he’ll want to be that person he’s beginning to look like against John McCain…who today represents everything that America stands for.

    BUT, if Obama thinks he can win going the way he’s headed, then let him go for it.

    But, as for me and many like me who sit on the fence until election time in November, we’ll still be thinking about having to live with ourselves long after this election is over in November and maybe these are the thoughts that the new young voters haven’t entertained yet…

    …and, there’s still a lot that can happen between now and November…

    …and, this probably means that Obama faces a huge political swamp ahead…one that he has created for himself by being too impetuous on some very important issues…

    …which has already gotten him into trouble with some of the very wise old parents of the younger generation.

    – Jim Carder

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