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News exec has a name-recognition problem with Barack Obama

April 14, 2008 |  2:55 pm

Appearing before a roomful of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington today, Barack Obama began with a slight (some might say strained) joke about the coverage he generated over the last couple of days because of his now so-well-known comments about small-town America.

As he was wrapping up, he had to parry a stumble by one of the nation's leading news executives, who Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama parried a question from newspaper executive William Dean Singleton that mangled the name of the Illinois senator conflated his name with that of a certain terrorist.

If he's not in the best of humor at the moment (despite his effort at jesting), it's easy to understand why.

Taking the podium at the annual meeting sponsored by the Associated Press, Obama slyly noted that he had "kept a lot of you guys busy over the weekend." He added, with a trace of a smile, that "some of you might even be a little bitter about that."

Polite laughter greeted the play on words (and Obama himself surely knows the brouhaha that continues to rage about him is no laughing matter for his political prospects).

In his speech, Obama made clear -- as he has repeatedly the last few days -- that he would welcome a debate with presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain over "elitism." And he had some mild scolding for the media, saying the propensity to get "caught up in the same cycle of political silliness" distracts from a serious focus on the nation's problems.

"We feed on controversy. We feed on conflict," he told his crowd. "It's not that interesting to say, 'I disagree with the guy, but I see his point.' "

Then came a brief Q & A, highlighted by a gaffe by William Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP board of directors and head of ...

one of the nation's largest newspaper chains. Asking about redeploying troops from Iraq, Singleton asked Obama if, as president, he could envision shifting "a substantial number to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has been gaining strength and Obama bin Laden is still at large."

"I think that was Osama bin Laden," the candidate corrected.

Singleton immediately apologized for the error. But Obama, whose name periodically has become part of the political dialogue, had two cents he wanted to add.

"No, no, no, this is part of the -- part of the exercises that I've been going though over the last 15 months," he said. "Which is why it's pretty impressive that I'm standing here."

The Times' Ben DuBose was at the appearance, and reports that this retort drew loud applause from the crowd of journalists.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press

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