The racial hot buttons behind the Tucker Carlson/Daily Caller Obama speech "scoop"
It was an information release coordinated so tightly, conservative media outlets would have complained instantly about bias if anyone other than them were behind it.
Late Tuesday, high-profile conservative web news guru Matt Drudge began touting the release of a video described as Obama's "Other Race Speech" on his influential Drudge Report site. Drudge used terms which seemed better suited to a movie trailer: " "THE ACCENT... THE ANGER... THE ACCUSATIONS... THE SERMON...FOXNEWS 9 PM ET...We don't need to build more highways out in the suburbs. We should be investing in minority-owned businesses, in our neighborhoods."
The video came from a speech then-presidential candidate Barack Obama gave to historically black Hampton University in 2007. Tucker Carlson's conservative-friendly news website The Daily Caller claimed to have an unedited version of the speech which would offer bombshell revelations, to be reviewed and released as Carlson was appearing on Fox News Channel pundit Sean Hannity's show at 9 p.m.
The video itself didn't seem to bring many new revelations, despite Carlson and Hannity's breathless delivery. Obama criticized the government for its slow response to the deastating floods after Hurricane Katrina, noting that other disasters -- the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Andrew -- got a better response. He gives a warm welcome to his then-pastor Jeremiah Wright, a powerful figure in his Chicago hometown that he praised often until revelations about controversial speeches Wright gave in his church caused Obama to distance himself from the minister.
Of course, every line in the speech is interpreted by Carlson and Hannity in ways that are most unflattering to the Democrat. In the Daily Caller story, they note: "At one point, he suggests that black people were excluded from rebuilding contracts after the storm: 'We should have had our young people trained to rebuild the homes down in the Gulf. We don’t need Halliburton doing it. We can have the people who were displaced doing that work. Our God is big enough to do that.'"
But he does say "the people who were displaced"; what's wrong with advocating that people forced out of their homes by flooding get a chance at the jobs created by rebuilding them?
In another section, the Caller dings Obama for suggesting a raft of programs to aid the poor: "The solution, Obama says, is a series of new federal programs, including one to teach punctuality to the poor: '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.'”
But before that line, Obama listed some of the people he was talking about: the homeless, veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and children aging out of foster care. Throughout the speech, Obama toggles between talking about the poor and talking about the frustrations of black Americans, but Carlson and Hannity treat every statement as a laundry list of goodies he plans to hand to black people.
I've got a book coming out at the end of the month called Race-Baiter dissecting how media outlets use race-baiting tactics to court audiences, and Tuesday's display by Hannity and Carlson seemed a textbook example:
It revives the image of Obama as a politican who seeks and receives special advantage because of white guilt. When I interviewed Carlson for the book, he told me one reason he started the Daily Caller was because he felt mainstream media was so taken with the history-making nature of electing a black president, they didn't adequately cover Obama. I told him I was surprised he didn't give Obama more credit for running a campaign which beat both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but Carlson was convinced Obama had won the presidency due to a lack of tough press coverage and he was determined to change that equation. Hence, stories like this one, which Hannity maintained the mainstream media concealed from the public.
It revives the image of Obama as a black President who secretly favors black people. One of the central fears evoked by some conservative pundits seems to be a vision of Obama as a president who will give advantages to black people and hide his pro-black attitudes. It's why conservatives such as Glenn Beck accused the president of racism and a theme for allegations such as the notion that the Department of Justice wasn't adequately pursuing cases against black people.
It revives the image of Obama as a scary black politician. Hannity on Tuesday spent some time discussing how the cadences of Obama's speech were different in this talk before a mostly black audience. But besides the fact that other politicians (Hillary Clinton, Al Gore) have also changed their speaking patterns in similar ways, such comments ignore a central truth about people of color -- we shift between cultures all the time in our speech and reactions. It's not that odd for me to talk one way with black friends from my old neighborhood in Gary, Ind. and talk a different way with white colleagues from work. It's called code switching, and it has a long history in this country, as people of color move between their own culture and the wider world. (as a few friends pointed out to me on Twitter, white folks also do code switching; particularly in the South, where they might move between urban and rural worlds.)
It tries to take some power away from black people to talk about and define racial opression. I sense one of the biggest frustrations from some conservatives in the way America talks about race, is the power people of color have to talk about and define race prejudice in ways white people don't quite have. One of the few advantages from America's long history of racial oppression, is that claims by minorities of oppression are taken more seriously in recent decades. But one reason figures such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson inspire so much rage on the right is for their perceived use of unfair racism charges to win money, attention and power. This speech seems to feature Obama saying things about race, Hurricane Katrina relief, poverty and public aid that many people have said before. But his ability to speak this way to black people without scandal seems to upset some conservatives, who have worked hard to try and prove this has resulted in unfair policies.
This story probably won't change many minds among a polarized electorate. But it will generate lots of attention for Carlson, The Daily Caller and Hannity just before a hotly-contested election. Which may have been the ultimate point, after all.