Media Freakout: Left, Right Spar over 2007 Obama Video

Media Freakout: Left, Right Spar over 2007 Obama Video

News aggregator Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report set political social media circles on fire with the announcement of a video purporting to show troubling racial statements from President Barack Obama.

Drudge previewed the tape’s unveiling at 3:03 PM EST on Twitter Tuesday:

Since then, the popular news website has leaked further details. The tape is in the possession of the Daily Caller, features the then-Senator giving a warm adulation to controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright, and features divisive statements about inner cities vs. suburbs and the needs of the poor. The portion of the speech relating to Rev. Wright was previously covered by Breitbart News’s Warner Todd Huston in 2008.

A description from the Daily Caller reads, “For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America.”

The tape would not be aired or posted online until 9PM EST on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program and on the Daily Caller website, but progressive journalists quickly began searching for the promised video.

BuzzFeed Politics posted several edited clips from the speech, apparently delivered at Hampton University in June of 2007. Others found a transcript of Obama’s prepared statements. These sources did not contain all of the quotes teased by Drudge, which suggest the remarks were off the cuff.

Several progressive journalists have reacted to the video’s social media buzz angrily or dismissively before learning the contents of the full 40-minute speech.

UPDATE: In the now-released video, Obama goes off his script, which calls for racial and religious unity, and condemns the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Senator Obama proclaims that the government neglected to waive the Stafford Act, requiring hurricane victims to contribute 10% of each dollar spent by the federal government on cleanup efforts. In contrast, officials waived this provision of the Stafford Act for 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew. Obama insinuates that the waiver happened because, unlike predominantly black New Orleans, the government considers New Yorkers and Floridians “part of the American family.”

Discussing the poor in America, Obama stated: “We can’t expect them to have all the skills they need to work. They may need help with basic skills, how to shop, how to show up for work on time, how to wear the right clothes, how to act appropriately in an office. We have to help them get there.”

Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson tore into the content of the speech in a “Hannity” interview after the controversial clips first aired on television. He described Obama’s affected dialect as “phony,” challenged the truthfulness of Obama’s Katrina aid account, and described the tenor of his speech as “not a dog whistle” but a “dog siren.” 

Carlson and co-author Vince Coglianese note that reporters were present for Obama’s speech in 2007 but none of the racially charged quotes made it into print or video coverage of the event. 

Left-wing pundits and reporters alternatively attacked and downplayed the video. On the “Hannity” broadcast, commentator Juan Williams claimed the release of the tape was “playing the race card” against Obama.

Politico depicted the video as old news:

Wright, Obama said, is “my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country.”

But as with other parts of the tape, that quote is not new — Obama’s ad-libbed shout out made it to No. 3 on a POLITICO list of the top gaffes of the 2008 campaign.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama made clear that he felt the federal government had let down the predominantly minority victims of Hurricane Katrina – so those sentiments also are not new. But Obama’s words in the video come across as much more raw and more visceral than his usual carefully measured words about race.

On the second page of the Politico story, author Jennifer Epstein admits portions of the speech are “newly unearthed.”

CNN’s Howard Kurtz dismissed the Daily Caller’s indictment of the media because, like today, no progressive reporters found the remarks newsworthy in 2007:

An analysis of why some blacks are angry and frustrated is not the same as racial rabble-rousing, which explains why the speech drew little coverage at the time, when Obama had been a presidential candidate for nearly six months.

On September 17th, journalists pursued presidential candidate Mitt Romney for comment on an incomplete video of remarks about the poor released by a left-wing magazine. Romney held a press conference the same evening as the tape segment’s release. The press has not similarly pushed the Obama campaign for clarification of Obama’s belief that the poor “need help with basic skills.”


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