The failure of the mainstream media to examine Barack Obama's support for Critical Race Theory founder Derrick Bell is one of the most glaring cases of journalistic malpractice and neglect in recent memory.
Nearly every single Obama biographer and profiler has mentioned the contentious racial climate of Harvard Law School during the time that Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review.
Some have even mentioned the speech that Obama gave at a protest where he literally embraced Bell.
Yet none, seemingly, bothered to track down and report on the content of the speech itself--or on Bell's radical ideas.
A PBS election special in 2008 showed footage of the protest but dubbed over critical portions of Obama's speech in which he endorsed Bell. A selectively edited clip released by Buzzfeed yesterday included the relevant audio but cut out the footage of Obama embracing Bell.
Harvard Law school professor Charles Ogletree (pictured above)--who was also a debate coach for Obama during the 2008 campaign--told an audience at Harvard last year: "We hid this throughout the 2008 campaign. I don’t care if they find it now."
Many of Obama's biographers appear to have been aware of the Bell protest but showed little interest in Bell or what Obama said about him.
David Remnick, longtime editor of The New Yorker and author of the bestselling Obama book, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama mentioned the speech on p. 214.
David Mendell, who has covered Obama since 2003 for the Chicago Tribune, and author of Obama: From Promise to Power, mentioned the speech on p. 85, writing: “Obama largely steered clear of the fray, but he did give a speech calling for greater faculty diversity and heaping praise on Derrick Bell.”
Yet they did not explore the speech--or the Obama-Bell relationship--further.
Journalists, too, didn’t bother to look too closely into the Obama-Bell connection.
Dahlia Lithwick, contributing editor at Newsweek and senior editor at Slate, mentioned the racial climate at HLS on April 7, 2008:
When it comes to the question of race in America, Barack Obama is used to hot tempers, accusations of bias, protests, speeches and pained outrage. In 1990 Harvard Law School was a key battleground in the identity wars. The faculty was angrily split over minority hiring and how to teach race in the classroom. Two years earlier 50 students had occupied the dean's office, demanding a more diverse faculty; that spring Derrick Bell--the first African-American to get tenure at Harvard Law School--resigned over the issue.
And yet Lithwick never mentioned Obama’s support of Bell during that contentious time. Lithwick’s piece was entitled, “A Complicated Record on Race,” but Obama’s views weren’t all that complicated: he supported Bell.
Buried way down in Lithwick's story was this: “[Obama] attended meetings of the Black Law Students Association [which supported Bell’s position] and spoke to at least one event demanding greater diversity on campus.” That event may well have been the speech where Obama embraced Bell, but we cannot know from Lithwick. Lithwick did not mention that Obama served on BLSA’s board.
Nor did we learn much from Jodi Kantor, who covered the Obamas and authored the book The Obamas. Kantor, herself a Harvard Law School dropout, was among the first journalists to write about Obama’s time as a student there. In the piece she filed on January 28, 2007, there was only this mention, buried well below the lede and couched in language to make Obama look moderate:
As the president of the review, Mr. Obama once again walked a delicate line. He served on the board of the Black Law Students Association, often speaking passionately about the tempest of the week, but in a way that white classmates say made them feel reassured rather than defensive. He distanced himself from bombast; he did a mischievous impersonation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he came to speak on campus, recalled Franklin Amanat, now a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn. Mr. Obama’s boldest moment came at a rally for faculty diversity, where he compared Professor Bell to Rosa Parks.
His “boldest moment”? Or his most revealing?
Game Change author John Heilemann, in New York Magazine on October 22, 2007, appears to have misrepresented Obama's political commitments in describing the period (my emphasis):
There were rallies, sit-ins, overnight occupations of the dean's office, even a student-propagated discrimination lawsuit; the prominent professor and critical race theorist Derrick Bell resigned over the issue. But Obama was a missing person in these pitched contretemps. "His absence from the leadership was conspicuous," Keith Boykin, one of the prime movers of the campaign, says. "We wanted him to be front and center, because he represented a lot of the points that we were making. But nobody was particularly surprised that he wasn't more involved….Some say that Obama was simply too busy for campus politics.
And yet the video is clear that Obama was involved in those very racial campus politics.
Heilemann, by the way, is also author of the anti-Palin Game Change film, which ought to make us question his credibility.
One of the few who came close to the Obama-Bell connection was Harvard professor James T. Kloppenberg, author of Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition. He wrote in 2010 that Obama was “immersed in debates about race,” and described Derrick Bell as having “made a career of using the Alinsky-style confrontation tactics to dislodge practices of racial segregation.”
“To [Bell’s] defenders, including Obama," Kloppenberg wrote, "Bell was keeping alive the spirit of Rosa Parks and other heroes of the civil rights movement.”
The truth was the opposite: Bell believed the civil rights movement was a sham, a way of keeping blacks enslaved to the white supremacy of the American legal and constitutional system as a whole.
And Obama's many mainstream media scribes were either too lazy to find the Bell protest speech or complicit in its suppression.
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